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Justin Smith talks up 49ers nose tackle Ian Williams

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Ian Williams has dealt with several injuries, but if he can remain healthy, he would likely be the 49ers starting nose tackle. Former 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith had big praise for Williams.

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One of many San Francisco 49ers position competitions to watch this summer will be at nose tackle. Ian Williams, Glenn Dorsey and Quinton Dial all have gotten extensive playing time at the position over the last two years. Dorsey spent most of 2013 starting at nose tackle, Williams started 2014 in the starting role, and Dial took over midway through the season after Williams suffered a leg injury.

If all three are healthy, it will be an interesting competition at nose tackle. Ian Williams, however, got a pretty noticeable endorsement on Tuesday. Now former 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith had some interesting comments during a Tuesday radio interview. He was asked about who would fill the loss of his leadership, and in the first part of his answer, said this:

Well, I mean just right off the bat, you've got NaVorro coming back. Glenn Dorsey's really come along, developed since he got here from Kansas City. I think a guy that's not talked about much because he's got injuries is Ian Williams. I think he's one of the best nose guards in the league if his leg's health.

I am not surprised he would offer praise for a teammate, but this goes above and beyond. When we first learned Smith was officially retiring, Matt Barrows suggested that Glenn Dorsey would handle right defensive end duties with Tank Carradine entering for him in the nickel. Barrows's discussion did not factor in Darnell Dockett, but given that he had Dial, Armstead and Jerod-Eddie competing on the left side, Dockett seems more likely to end up starting on that side. Dorsey does not seem like a lock for one specific role quite yet, but he seems likely to be starting somewhere on this line.

The question now is whether or not Ian Williams can remain healthy. He has dealt with leg issues each of the last two seasons, with a brutal ankle injury in 2013 that resulted in a fracture and significant ligament damage. Last year he suffered a broken leg, and ideally it is a fairly simple injury that he can bounce back from in OTAs and training camp.

The 49ers will open up practice to the media on Thursday, so we should hear something or other about what Williams is doing during practice. We can't take a lot from drills that don't involve live contact, but participation would certainly be nice to see over rehabbing and individual work. But, we'll see what Thursday brings.