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49ers Roster, 90-in-90 breakdowns: Ian Williams

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Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days or in however long we feel like it). Today we focus on nose tackle Ian Williams.

Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

Each year, we like to run a series of posts called "90-in-90." The idea is that we'll take a look at every player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few ways. This roster will certainly change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not exactly 90 players in 90 days.

Last off-season, the San Francisco 49ers signed nose tackle Ian Williams to a two-year contract extension. The contract was indicative of the team's confidence in Williams, even letting their two primary nose tackles walk before the 2013 season. As is the 49er way, the team still created competition for the starting nose tackle position.

The 49ers signed Glenn Dorsey, who was primarily a 3-4 defensive end. As a proven vet, Dorsey was considered by some to be the front-runner at the nose tackle position and was the first free agent signing last offseason. Clearly, the 49ers considered Dorsey a priority signing. The value in Dorsey is his versatility. Dorsey's experience includes 3-4 defensive end, but he has also played 4-3 defensive tackle.

At the beginning of the 2013 season, WIlliams emerged as the starter at nose tackle. Given his build, it is not surprising he won the role as the zero technique lineman. Unfortunately, Williams season was cut short week two in the first quarter against the Seattle Seahawks.

Seattle ran a toss sweep to Marshawn Lynch for two yards. On the interior, Williams, playing on the right shoulder of center Max Unger, started to defend the run. Out of Williams' view and while engaged with Unger, Seahawks right guard J.R. Sweezy dove at Williams' left leg. Williams' left fibula (ankle) was broken and he suffered extensive ligament damage on that then-legal cut block. Since then, Williams has had four surgeries in an effort to repair the ankle. During the offseason, the NFL passed a rule making this kind of block (a long-time staple for some offensive lines) illegal.

Expected 2014 Impact:

Williams looked solid in the first two games of the 2013 season as a big bodied anchor, but he also is coming off four surgeries on his ankle. The final surgery was in February, when a plate was removed from his leg. According to Williams, "It feels good, just a little weak. That comes with having surgery. But it feels better every day, every week, every month."

Williams went on:

"That's the goal. It's attainable," Williams said on Tuesday in the 49ers' locker room. "I want to make sure I'm close to 100 (percent) because my position is very different than others.

"I have two guys, at times, pushing on me, so I have different angles I got to hold 700 pounds sometimes. So I want to make sure my ankle is as close to 100 as possible."

Williams initial target for return was training camp. At this juncture, the 49ers have placed him on the Active/PUP list, which means he will not be practicing until he receives a full clearance from the team doctors. Of course, nobody can predict if Williams will return to his pre-injury self, but it appears he is realistic about the injury and his return.

Some have been pessimistic of his return due to the fact he has had four surgeries. Yet, Williams surgeries included the need to insert pins and plates to stabilize the ankle. Most of these surgeries are designed to be put in and removed. Secondary surgeries are part of this type of treatment and is not necessarily a metric to gauge the recovery process.

The 49ers are fortunate Dorsey was able to step in beautifully at nose tackle in Williams' absence. I do believe Williams is built like a true nose tackle, broader and stronger to anchor the position. There is no question Williams, when healthy, is a guy who can fill the role, but he is not going to spend a ton of time on the field right away. I see the 49ers easing him in, but do believe he will return sometime early in the season.

Odds of making the roster:

While Williams may not be a 100% lock due to his injury, he has made significant progress. Williams beat out Dorsey once and some believe he has a more pass rush upside. So, the key here is whether or not Williams ankle is good to go. Considering Dorsey and his versatility -- there is no need to rush him back. There is a good possibility the 49ers shelve him on the Reserve/PUP and let him get as close as possible to 100 percent before he makes his 2014 debut.

The 49ers have added bodies to rotate in and out, including Quinton Dial. But, the 49ers like versatility and the ability to secure old fashioned roster depth from the PUP. Once Williams finally practices, there is a strong likelihood he will be able to win back his position as nose tackle. Of course, the picture may be a little more clear in the coming weeks. In any event, I do believe he will be on the 53-man roster by mid-season.