The past two weeks have been abnormal for 49ers right guard Mike Person.
Last Saturday, NFL teams cut rosters from 90 players to 53 before assembling their practice squads one day later. For the first time in three years, Person felt safe. He did not dress in last Thursday’s preseason finale, signifying his status as a lock for the 53-man roster.
“It was pretty nice,” Person said. “I have only been in that position maybe once, twice before. It was definitely a different experience for me— definitely embraced it.”
On Friday afternoon, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said Person will start in Sunday’s Week 1 matchup at Minnesota. He has earned that title with consistency and stability, something that has lacked throughout his eight-year career.
The 49ers drafted Person in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He made the 53-man roster his rookie season but did not see the field. Throughout the ensuing seven seasons, Person joined five different teams, including multiple stints with the 49ers and Indianapolis Colts. The 19 months he spent with the Atlanta Falcons from 2015 to 2016 is his longest tenure with any team.
When he signed a one-year deal with the 49ers in May, Person said he was not guaranteed a roster spot. He just wanted an opportunity for one.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Person says.
It’s fitting that Person, a journeyman better known for his consistency than flash, speaks with such simplicity. He looks exactly like someone you’d expect from Glendive, a 3,000-person town in Eastern Montana. He is a large, bearded man who wears trucker hats and plays one of the most underappreciated positions in football.
Person, 30, has stuck with his meandering career for a simple reason.
“Football is what you do, what you know,” he says. “Being from a small town, it gives me a lot of pride to continue doing this.”
In many ways, he could not contrast his competition any more.
At the start of training camp, Person competed with two first-round picks, Joshua Garnett and Jonathan Cooper. Cooper started 13 games for the Dallas Cowboys last year. Garnett, San Francisco’s 2016 first-rounder, spent the offseason losing 20 pounds, which led to rave reviews from Shanahan. Factor in Erik Magnuson, who is entering his second year in San Francisco’s system, and the four of them battled at the team’s lone position without a clear-cut starter.
But Garnett and Cooper each suffered knee injuries that kept them out for at least a week early in training camp. Cooper was ultimately cut. Magnuson sustained a hamstring injury in the second preseason game that will sideline him into the regular season.
Person, meanwhile, has been smooth, steady, and, most importantly, healthy.
“Person has been the most consistent since day one,” Shanahan said last week.
Person’s start on Sunday will be just his second time starting a season opener. The other came in 2015 with the Atlanta Falcons, with Shanahan as their offensive coordinator. Person made 14 of his 18 career starts at center that season. Prior to the 2016 season, the Falcons acquired All-Pro center Alex Mack, making Person expendable.
He spent the following two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and Colts, where he started the final four games of the 2017 season after starter Ryan Kelly suffered an injury. Person shined in abbreviated time, earning Pro Football Focus’ third-highest ranking in pass-blocking efficiency for all centers, allowing just three quarterback pressures in 194 attempts.
He credits his longevity to his versatility, perhaps the defining trait the 49ers brass values in its players.
“That’s how I have been able to stick at it for a bit,” Person said Wednesday.
When he signed with the 49ers in May, he realized his career has come full circle, returning to the team that drafted him and playing for the coach that gave him his greatest opportunity.
Now in his second stint with the 49ers, Person plays an important role in their success in 2018. When asked what he expects to experience as a Week 1 starter, Person reverts to this week’s preparation.
He talks like someone who knows tomorrow is never guaranteed in the NFL.
“I am trying to just focus on today and soak in this game plan as much as I can,” Person said.