Concord’s Lauderdale sticking with San Francisco 49ers

  • Concord’s Andrew Lauderdale was a two-year starter at UNH and now plays for the San Francisco 49ers. Monitor file

Monitor staff
Sunday, April 29, 2018

While the latest class of NFL rookies take the first steps on their pro journey after the weekend’s draft, Andrew Lauderdale waits in a California hotel room.

The Concord native was in the rookies’ place a year ago – wondering where he might go, if he belongs in the league, how it all works. The 24-year-old Lauderdale is still trying to make a name for himself with the San Francisco 49ers, but he’s already digested a season’s worth of NFL lessons.

Lauderdale was a two-year starter at the University of New Hampshire and Third Team All-CAA as a senior in 2016. His size (6-foot-6, 291 pounds) and athleticism (4.94 40-yard dash) attracted NFL attention, and he signed with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent after last year’s draft.

He lasted just five days in New Orleans. That was lesson number one.

“The first thing you learn is that it’s a tough business,” Lauderdale said. “That’s what I’d been told, but I didn’t expect to get let go that fast, but it happened. Initially for rookie mini camp they just threw a playbook at you and you had to know a certain amount of plays right off the bat to be ready for practice, so it was pretty stressful, pretty overwhelming in New Orleans.”

It was an abrupt eye-opening, but Lauderdale felt he would get another chance somewhere. A few weeks and workouts later, he signed with the 49ers. The experience in New Orleans had readied Lauderdale, but his first training camp was still a challenge.

“It was stressful being an undrafted free agent because it’s hard to stay on a team that already has draft picks and starters,” Lauderdale said. “So I was excited to have another chance, but I was nervous because I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

What happened was Lauderdale played in three of the four preseason games. He proved to himself and the league he could handle the pro game. He made it through the entire training camp … and was cut on Sept. 1.

“I was upset,” Lauderdale said. “They told me they were going to try and do what they can to get me on the practice squad, but you only have 10 practice-squad spots.”

Still, he kept believing and kept himself in shape after coming home to New Hampshire. The call he’d been waiting for came in late October and Lauderdale flew back to California to work out with San Francisco, but the team decided to sign veteran tackle Bryce Harris instead, so Lauderdale returned to New Hampshire.

Five days later, the 49ers called again. Things with Harris didn’t work out, so Lauderdale got on another plane, made another cross-country trip and this time there was a spot on the practice squad waiting for him when he landed.

There’s no fame and fortune for practice-squad guys – they spend most of their time on the scout team, they don’t get to dress for games and Lauderdale lived in an Airbnb apartment last year – but it’s still the NFL. They go to all the practices, meetings and home games, and they are expected to know all of the playbook. The 49ers thought enough of Lauderdale’s behind-the-scenes work, and potential, to sign him to a two-year contract at the end of last season.

“After I signed it was just nice knowing that you have someplace to come back to,” he said.

He went back to that place on April 15 after spending his offseason in Concord. On Thursday, Lauderdale’s depth chart climb got tougher when San Francisco drafted tackle Mike McGlinchey with the No. 9 pick. On Friday, things got a little easier for the kid from Rundlett Middle School when the 49ers traded Trent Brown, who started 10 games at tackle last year, to New England.

Lauderdale still has a ways to climb, but there’s room for promotion in San Francisco, which gave up 43 sacks last year, tied for 10th most in the league. Tackle Joe Staley, a 12-year vet, could have both health and salary-cap concerns. Tackle Garry Gilliam has been underwhelming in his five NFL seasons. And the two other incumbent tackles, Darrell Williams Jr. and Pace Murphy, were both undrafted rookies now in their second year, like Lauderdale.

Thursday’s pick and Friday’s trade make it clear San Francisco is looking to change things along its line. And even though expectations, and signing bonuses, will be high for McGlinchey, he’s still a rookie, which could give Lauderdale an edge. Just listen to Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio.

“When you’re talking about the draft, essentially you’re talking about developmental players. It doesn’t really matter where they’re picked. These players got a long way to go,” Caserio said early Friday morning after the first round. “They’re behind our players. I mean, our players have been in the offseason program here for a couple of weeks.”

That’s what Lauderdale has been doing with the 49ers. He’s been lifting and conditioning with strength coach Ray Wright and his staff, going to position meetings, studying his playbook and living in a hotel room from now until June, which is when the current slate of offseason workouts and mini camps end.

“I pretty much have all the basic stuff down and it’s definitely helping to be here,” Lauderdale said. “It will be easier, I won’t have to really think about it as much during practice. It will be like second nature.”

Coming from the practice squad may not be glamorous, but it beats getting a playbook thrown at you as a rookie.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)