Even though the 49ers lost two nose tackles in free agency and didn’t draft one, Ray McDonald said he is optimistic towards Ian Williams. Backing up Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois, Williams spent most of the last two seasons as an inactive player.
“Ian Williams is a good player and he’s not surprising us [in practice],” Ray McDonald said on Wednesday afternoon. “There are some games he’s played in, nothing against Isaac [Sopoaga] or Ricky[Jean Francois], but we feel [he is] an upgrade.”
Throughout training camp, Williams has been impressive in absorbing double teams in the trenches. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he is having a great offseason so far.
“Ian [Williams] has worked extremely hard since he’s gotten here from day one but really kicked it up this offseason and he’s had a very good camp up to now,” said Fangio on Tuesday afternoon. “I think he’s matured as a worker and a professional football player. He’s realized his weaknesses and is trying to overcome them and correct them and he’s playing good.”
One of the biggest motivators for Williams has been the opportunity given to him with Jean Francois and Sopoaga departing the team. Jean Francois and Sopoaga signed contracts with the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles respectively.
Williams was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and made the 53-man roster. He was inactive for all but one game in 2011 and played three games during the 2012 regular season. With his initial contract set to expire after the 2013 season, the 49ers sign Williams to a two-year extension that will keep him with the team through 2015.
Even though Williams knows the starting NT job will be his to lose, he still maintains his friendship with Sopoaga and Jean Francois. He has enjoyed working with the 49ers offensive line every day.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better by playing against [Mike] Iupati, [Jonathan Goodwin] and [Alex] Boone,” said Williams. “They’re all big strong guys and practicing with them is vital to where I am right now. I still talk to Ricky and Isaac today and I stepped into a great situation.”
This will be a huge opportunity for Ian Williams to make a name for himself and fill a spot of weakness last year for the 49ers. The NT position was one of the liabilities in pass rushing with the linebackers being blocked. While both DEs were solid most of the year, Williams can immensely improve the defense line cause pressure up the middle.
Williams and Glenn Dorsey are the only two nose tackles who should be all but guaranteed a roster spot. Others on the depth chart who are fighting for a roster spot include Lamar Divens and Mike Purcell.