Ian Williams was a bright spot for the San Francisco 49ers in the early stages of 2013.
The 6-foot-1, 305-pound nose tackle, however, had his moment abruptly taken away with a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2 of the regular season.
Williams, an undrafted fourth-year pro, earned San Francisco's starting nose tackle position following a challenging training camp battle with incoming veteran Glenn Dorsey. In fact, Williams was practically the talk of camp for the 49ers defense.
"Ian has been amazing so far," six-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker Joe Staley said on July 30. "He's been a part of the system for a while now, but to step into a starting role like he has so far… he's been unbelievable."
Williams was solid in his first NFL start in the 2013 season opener, but the athletic nose tackle did not finish San Francisco's road loss in Seattle. A cut-block in the first half by Seahawks right guard J.R. Sweezy fractured Williams' left ankle and ended his promising season.
"It was hard," Williams recently told 49ers.com. "I'm not going to sugarcoat it or anything like that. It was hard not being able to contribute. But in the long run, while I was home watching the games, I was able to think about a lot and get ready for next season."
Williams is making strides in his rehab process and aims to be back by training camp. Team doctors will take a careful approach with the young defensive lineman who is signed through the 2015 season.
A return to the starting lineup is not guaranteed once Williams is fully healthy. That's because Dorsey enjoyed a solid debut season with the 49ers. The former No. 5 overall draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs recorded 41 tackles and 2 sacks in 2013.
Williams, on the other hand, looks forward to renewing the friendly competition between the two defensive linemen. In fact, both players thrived from the 2013 training camp battle.
"When we went into training camp, we took a lot of reps," Williams noted. "He took reps, I took reps. I wanted him to get even more reps because just in case I went down. I did and he was able to step in and we were still able to play at a high level defensively."
With Dorsey as San Francisco's defensive anchor, the unit finished as the NFL's No. 4 rush defense, allowing 95.9 yards per game.
Williams had no problem with Dorsey's success. In handling the tough circumstance, Williams' personal outlook on the situation spoke highly of his character.
"I wish the best for the next man always," Williams said. "I want a ring. Forget everything else, I just want a ring. If I can't do it, and he can, it is what it is. I just want a ring, that's all I want.
"That's how it is in our D-line room, we're just tight like that. We all want to get a ring. I know how much Justin Smith and Ray McDonald have put into this."
So while the team's top four defensive linemen were able to train last offseason as a unit, Williams' availability in thi syear's potential workout sessions will have to be on hold.
"We were together this whole offseason, so I know everything they put into it," Williams said. "We were dog-tired afterwards."
For now, all Williams can do is follow doctor's orders and do what he can to get back in the mix for the 2014 season.
In addition, Williams can be a good teammate and share his rehab experiences with fellow injured players on the 49ers roster.
Williams already started to do that as soon as NaVorro Bowman went down with a major knee injury in the NFC Championship game against Seattle.
"After it happened I went to the locker room and told him, 'This is just a test. I was here a few months ago, lying right where you were and I'm over here standing, walking and talking to you now to make sure you're good. You're going to be alright. Just make sure you come back stronger.'"
For Williams, it was the right thing to do.
"When I was hurt, he was one of the guys keeping me up, checking on me," Williams said of Bowman, a Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro selection in 2013.
As for Williams, the young defensive lineman is even more motivated to succeed after having a brief taste of success. He knows Bowman is just as hungry to return.
"We have to get rehabbing and get back to work," Williams said. "Hopefully that will transition into prosperity this coming year."