SANTA CLARA – Until he suited up for his first regular-season game a week ago in Washington, Joe Looney’s game-day routine consisted of working with 49ers offensive line coaches Mike Solari and Tim Drevno a couple hours before kickoff.
Looney, selected in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, took advantage of every opportunity to learn and get better since coming to the 49ers. And on Sunday, he got his chance to play in a real game.
“I just looked at is as way to learn and get better, studying in the classroom and taking advantage of watching the guys on the field,” Looney said after the 49ers' 23-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams.
Looney could get his first NFL start on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, as the 49ers might not have the services of the Pro Bowl offensive linemen Joe Staley or Mike Iupati. Both players are recovering from MCL sprains.
Staley underwent an MRI examination on Monday. The 49ers typically do not reveal medical details, but sources told CSNBayArea.com that Staley sustained a sprain to his right MCL. He was seen walking gingerly Monday with a brace on his knee. He was not using crutches. Staley is expected to miss a game or two.
Iupati has missed two games and might be another week from returning to action. With Staley and Iupati out of action, only center Jonathan Goodwin and right tackle Anthony Davis were in their normal positions.
Right guard Alex Boone moved to left tackle in the first quarter against the Rams to fill in for Staley. Adam Snyder started at left guard for Iupati, and Looney took Boone’s spot at right guard.
“Alex Boone going out to tackle did a very good job right from the first play he moved out there,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said on Monday. “He was blocking some really good players. He was good. Good in pass protection.
“Joe Looney did a good job. He was confident. He went right at guys. I thought he played very well. Both were really good with their assignments.”
In the past, Looney got in his workout and showered well before kickoff. The 49ers’ assistant coaches pace the reserve linemen -- from the practice squad or those who will not suit up for games -- through a rigorous workout before games.
Now, those workouts are paying dividends for Looney.
Looney got the call to play Sunday instead of Daniel Kilgore, who has suited up for games the past two seasons and often enters as an extra blocker in short-yardage situations.
“He’s been getting a lot of reps at guard,” Harbaugh explained. “Daniel gets reps at guard and center because Daniel is the backup center. So it’s more than Joe’s position, especially that guard position.”
Boone said the other offensive linemen greeted Looney with a challenge when he entered the huddle for the first time. Looney did not allow a quarterback pressure in the game.
“One of the first things we said when he came out there, ‘Hey, it’s time to be a big boy,’” Boone said. “It was a chippy game to start with, and we knew it was going to be like that. Knowing Joe, I knew he was ready. I’m proud of the way he played.”
The 49ers could start two backups on the offensive line in the same game for the first time since the 2008 season on Sunday. That unit got a taste of playing together for more than three quarters against the Rams.
“It’s terrible when you a see a guy go down, especially someone like Joe Staley, a Pro Bowler,” Looney said. “But we have leaders on this offensive line and their focus was on winning the game.”
Now, the focus will be on turning around the team’s fortunes in the run game. Frank Gore was held to 42 yards on 15 carries. In the past three games, Gore has gained just 121 yards, as defenses have been geared up to stop the run.
On Sunday, the 49ers took advantage of the Rams through the air, as quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for 275 yards and a touchdown.
“There were some things muddying the run game. We didn’t get the run game going as well as we’d like,” Harbaugh said.
“A lot of teams put an extra man in the box. They did a good job stopping the run and we countered with the pass, which was very effective. That was very much a positive.”