Heading into his 11th NFL season, Trent Williams is not only preparing for his first debut with a new team - he is also making a return to the game after missing an entire year of football. A dispute with the Washington Redskins medical staff placed him on the NFI list (Non-football injury and illness), forcing the veteran left tackle to be sidelined the entire 2019 season.
Following the 49ers acquisition of Williams on April 25, the left tackle acknowledged that San Francisco was his destination of choice given his familiarity with Kyle Shanahan and several other members of the coaching staff. While he's noted that his body feels "rejuvenated" after a brief hiatus from football, he also believes joining the 49ers placed him in the most advantageous position to succeed.
While sidelined, Williams studied the top defenses in the league. Last season, San Francisco yielded the fewest passing yards allowed (169.2 yards) and tied for the fifth-most sacks in the NFL (48). The ability to fine tune his game against a premiere defense only added to his desire to join San Francisco once the opportunity for a trade became available.
"Man, I'm looking forward to it," Williams told Ian Rapoport on the RapSheet + Friends podcast. "When I looked for a team to go to, I looked at the opposite side of the ball to see who I can sharpen my iron on every day in practice. When I get out there on the field, I can't come up with a 'rust' excuse. All that, to me, doesn't exist. I'd rather be rusty in practice and be able to sharpen my iron than try to do it Sunday night with all of the cameras on me. So for me, coming into this organization where the defense is probably the best in the league - when you think about defensive lines that get after the quarterback, I think anybody with a pulse is going to throw the 49ers front out there with the first, second or third groups to mention."
Once social distancing mandates are lifted and practice can resume, Williams anticipates easing back into the NFL by facing off against the league's reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year in Nick Bosa. Last season, Bosa registered nine sacks, (25 quarterback hits), 47 tackles (16 for loss), a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and an interception that earned him a Pro Bowl nod. As the two are expected to match up regularly at practice, Williams anticipates Bosa being ideal preparation while he reacclimates himself to the game.
"That in itself excites me as a competitor because I know I can get some of the best work done during the week," Williams continued. "You're not going to see too many guys better than that group, especially not any individual that much better than Bosa. I think they just don't have that many guys in the league that are better than him. So, I think, for me, it is going to do everything for me to get me back to where I know I can be."
While practicing against some of the league's best will certainly aid in his transition back into the NFL, so will the 49ers stability at quarterback. Consistent quarterback play, or lack thereof, has been a rarity for Williams. Since 2010, Washington has seen 11 different quarterbacks under center. In the last 10 seasons, Washington has had the same quarterback for all 16 games just three times, and has made a postseason appearance only twice during that time span. Williams anticipates a settled situation with Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco will provide a converse experience going forward.
"From being in my position, from not having a lot of success in the league and having a good quarterback and to having kind of a musical chairs back there, I know the importance of it," Williams said. "(Garoppolo) is awesome. I think he's proven he's a quarterback that you can win with in this league. It's just hard to find quarterbacks. It's a tough position to pin down. I think that's why you see the contracts where they are. So, having a quarterback that is going to make the right read and the right throw, I think that has to allow Kyle a chance to sleep at night because having a guy who won't throw the game away for you and you put them in the best position possible, he'll win."
Despite the offseason criticism, Shanahan recently doubled down on his faith in Garoppolo. Coming off of his first full NFL season, Garoppolo can only continue to ascend in his second year as a full-time starter according to his head coach. The addition of the Pro Bowl left tackle and the stability surrounding the team should benefit all parties involved for the foreseeable future.
"I'm extremely happy just to be a part of an offense that really doesn't need me to win. I just add to it," Williams said.