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Weston Richburg reflects on Garoppolo relationship, adjusting to new offense, and more



© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

SANTA CLARA — When center Weston Richburg was acquired in March, 49ers general manager John Lynch said he had to “compete vigorously for him, and there were a lot of suitors.” Ultimately, Richburg signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal with the 49ers, making him the third-highest paid center in the league in terms of annual salary.

The deal underscored a center’s importance in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. Rewind to the 2016 season during Shanahan’s second as Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator. They acquired center Alex Mack and everything changed. Now a five-time Pro Bowler, Mack became an instrumental part of that Atlanta offense that led the league in scoring.

“It really helps the versatility in everything you can do,” Shanahan said in March. “Not just at the center, but what your guards and tackles can do on other positions.”

During Richburg’s introductory press conference, Shanahan explained that Richburg is capable of doing his job with little help. He doesn’t need particular plays called or a guard’s help to compensate for a weakness.

“It really helps solidify the whole O-Line,” Shanahan said. “I feel that’s usually where it starts. There’s a lot of good players, but when you have a difference-maker at that position, what I’ve found and I’ve experienced through my career, it’s been a lot easier to run an offense.”

Throughout his four seasons with the New York Giants, Richburg developed into one of the league’s top centers when healthy. Now with a new team, Richburg is experiencing flashbacks to his rookie season.

“It’s been a learning experience,” Richburg told KNBR after Wednesday’s practice. “I revert back to kind of similarities my rookie year, but now obviously I have a better idea of what’s going on. But you just have to learn everything. It’s good to get these live reps to get the offense figured out.”

Richburg said several of the calls with the 49ers are the same as his time with the Giants. Learning a new playbook, particularly one as complex as Shanahan’s, however, has required some adjusting.

In 2017, the Giants ran 11 personnel — one back and one tight end— on a whopping 92 percent of downs. Conversely, the 49ers ran 11 personnel just 47 percent of the time, which ranked 27th in the league. They ran 21 personnel — two backs and one tight end — a league-leading 31 percent of the time.

These offenses are very different, but Shanahan saw several transferable traits in Richburg, including body movement, solo blocking ability, and sustaining blocks. What Shanahan saw on tape has transitioned into the first six days of camp.

“He has been everything we hoped he would be,” Shanahan said Wednesday. “He gives us a huge advantage in the run game, just reaching shades and things like that. He has been great in protection.”

What has helped ease Richburg into his new role, he says, is the tight-knit sense of feeling within the 49ers organization. He says this locker room is the closest he has ever seen. He credits 12-year 49ers veteran Joe Staley for including everyone and delegating within the offensive line group rather than taking sole ownership.

“They are very open to, not critiquing, but figuring out how to get better on certain plays and what not,” Richburg said.

Signing Richburg meant pairing Jimmy Garoppolo with a center for the next five years. Richburg says that is “crucial.” Their chemistry has grown throughout practice, during film sessions, and in meetings.

“It’s really easy to work on that camaraderie when you’re together 12 hours a day,” Richburg said.

Richburg joked that training camp is the best time to build that relationship rather than meeting away from the facilities. Garoppolo’s star status has already determined that.

“I don’t think I can get into places Jimmy goes,” Richburg said. “If he brings us along, I would be glad to join him but i don’t think we can fit in with him.”