© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Last year was brutal. From an NFL perspective, there are few teams that suffered like the 49ers did.
San Francisco had by far the worst injury situation in the league; per Football Outsiders, the 49ers lost the most games to injury by a chasmic margin at 166.6 games, and lost just five of those due to COVID-19 protocols.
— Jake Hutchinson (@hutchdiesel) May 6, 2021
Mike McGlinchey was one of the few 49ers who stayed healthy last year. He’s one of just five players who started in all 16 games.
And it was a long 16 games.
Starting in the offseason, the 49ers found themselves in a spin cycle. Protocols meant only 80 players could be on the training camp roster and thanks to early injuries, that number shrunk precipitously, forcing the remaining squad to take many early reps without the normal ramp-up period of rookie minicamp, OTAs and minicamp. It was an unwinnable war of attrition.
And while McGlinchey was one of the few healthy ones, he was not the same player we saw in years prior. He was dubbed “Big Slim” by Richard Sherman for his slimmer frame; and he looked great, just not for an offensive tackle.
He told reporters at the start of the season that he weighed around 295-300 pounds.
In large part due to that weight loss, McGlinchey struggled in pass protection in ways he hadn’t before. There were countless times he found himself on his rear. It was obvious and jarring. It brought questions which hadn’t been asked before, at least not frequently; is McGlinchey going to get his fifth-year option picked up? Is he the long-term right tackle?
And as that criticism mounted, McGlinchey, who was still a dominant run blocker, fired back at his critics in the week of practice before a Week 6 matchup with the Los Angeles Rams. He said some of the criticism of him was fair, but that it had gone overboard and he was actually having a “pretty good” season.
“I don’t really appreciate people who are the armchair quarterbacks that take a 30-second clip off of Twitter and think they understand offensive line play,” McGlinchey said on October 14. “I don’t like that. But no, I can’t give up — whether it’s one or two plays a game in a situation in Philadelphia, when we were in a play-action pass, I went a little too heavy at the guy. Nick [Mullens] still had the ball in his hand and I caused the turnover inside our own 20-yard line. That kind of a thing just can’t happen. And so yeah, that’s a fair assessment…
“I think that each week it’s gotten better and better. I think that the things that you have been saying have been a little bit over the top. I think nobody’s watching a complete football game and they’re choosing a lazy narrative of one play and they see something on Twitter and they think they have it figured out. But no, I think it’s been a solid, solid year. Obviously have a lot of things continue to improve on, but I’ve been doing that week to week, and just have to clean up.”
He took to Twitter after the 49ers beat the Rams 24-16 that weekend.
— Mike McGlinchey (@mmcglinch68) October 19, 2020
In a phone conversation, McGlinchey told KNBR that he laments how he reacted to the criticism he received. He said views he last season, as brutal as it was, as necessary; it taught him how and how not to deal with struggles on and off the field.
“I’m more disappointed in myself for the way that I let it affect me and my approach going forward in my own game rather than the way that I normally have always operated which is just to focus on me and our team,” McGlinchey said. “I think I needed to have that. I think I needed to have moments like that. I think I needed to be able to deal with that and learn how to deal with that moving forward to become stronger, to become tougher, to become more aware of what I need to control mentally to be at my best. And that’s what’s cool about it. I get another opportunity to continue to grow this year and I’m excited to put that to rest.”
Kyle Shanahan, when asked about McGlinchey’s struggles and his fifth-year option back on December 30, said roughly the same thing.
“I think it’s a good thing for Mike to go through that stuff because I think it can make him stronger,” Shanahan said. “He’s made of the right stuff. He’s a good football player. He’s going to have a great career, and I plan on it being here and I hope he takes it the right way and it makes him a better player next year for it.”
But McGlinchey told KNBR he’s added weight this offseason, and he looks it. He’s up to 315-320 pounds, a roughly 15-pound increase. He said it was a “huge emphasis” to get stronger.
McGlinchey is one of the few players who remained around the 49ers’ facility in Santa Clara over the summer, where he said he worked closely with head of strength and conditioning, Dustin Perry, on a program that would provide additional weight and strength. He said he feels that he’s physically back to where he needs to be.
“There wasn’t necessarily a number that I was trying to have, but it was definitely evident that I needed to get stronger,” McGlinchey said. “It was a tough offseason last year all the way through. Everything was shut down. Even our facility was shut down. Food resources were shut down, so I had to figure out and get creative about what I needed to do to stay on top of things. And unfortunately, it just made life on the field a little bit more difficult.”
The isolation of last season, and the 49ers’ spur-of-the-moment relocation to Arizona, where players were literally confined to their rooms except to play football, was extremely taxing.
“It was an awful situation when you’re living out of a hotel room for 40-something days straight and your only time you come out of the room is to practice football,” McGlinchey said. “It just kind of seemed like a wild situation to be in. I honestly couldn’t believe that that’s what has happened.
“It wasn’t the easiest of situations to be able to play and win football games in. And hopefully we never have to do it again.”
And yes, McGlinchey is aware of the bad film.
“I let it affect me in a bad way and that’s something that should never have happened,” McGlinchey said. “The only opinions that matter are the ones that I have of myself, the ones my coaches have of me and the ones that my teammates have of me. And unfortunately, when things are shut down and you’re not allowed to hang out with your teammates, you’re not allowed to see anybody outside of your house, or even your hotel room when we got moved to Arizona, you spend a lot of time on your phone. I went down a bad rabbit hole and certain things that I let in my head, that I let it bother me, that shouldn’t have happened and it’ll never happen again.
“But the fact of the matter is, I had bad moments last year. I definitely deserved some of the criticism that I got. I don’t know if it needed to be as extensive as it was from week to week, but that’s what happens when you’re a focal point of your offense that’s kind of injury-riddled and I was a first-round pick, so expectations are high. Expectations for myself are high, but on top of it, I understand how frustrating things went last year and there were some bad things that I put on film that will never happen again.”
But McGlinchey had a real zeal in talking about the process of getting past last season. Those languorous weeks, when it was evident the 49ers didn’t have enough manpower to compete down the stretch, and were marooned in Arizona… well, it doesn’t get much more emotionally taxing than that.
In working through what went wrong last season, McGlinchey came to a realization that it really can’t get much worse than 2020. Just about everyone was injured, McGlinchey wasn’t playing well, and the 49ers were trying to trudge through the season that just wouldn’t end, all while stuck in unfamiliar hotel rooms for 40-plus days.
That is invaluable scar tissue.
With a full offseason program underway, the prospect of a stadium full of fans and veteran and rookie reinforcements like Alex Mack and McGlinchey’s former Notre Dame teammate, Aaron Banks, there’s a feeling of optimism again. McGlinchey says he let himself down with his response to criticism last year, but that he needed to get to that spot to know how to avoid finding himself there again. And he’s pretty confident he won’t be anywhere near that space he found himself in last season.