What better way to find out about our new left tackle than from someone that’s been covering Trent Williams his entire career? The Athletic’s Mark Bullock does fantastic work covering Washington’s football team and was kind enough to answer four questions about the San Francisco 49ers’ newest left tackle.
How concerned should we be about Williams and his injury history?
It’s the only concern I’d have with him, but it’s a significant one. He’s only played a full 16 game season twice in his whole NFL career, and the last time he did that was in 2013. He’s been someone that has tended to get hurt and miss a few games every year, but he always did his best to play through pain when he could. In 2017, he played multiple weeks with a dislocated kneecap that he knew would require surgery to fix. It showed great toughness and leadership because he did that to anchor an offensive line that was already missing all four other starters while the team still had an outside shot of making the playoffs. Once that chance was gone, he was shut down for the season and had the surgery.
So the toughness is there and shouldn’t be questioned, but the injuries have always been there, which isn’t ideal for someone on the wrong side of 30. Perhaps a year off will have enabled him to completely rest and get his body right, but last year he wasn’t able to put on a helmet without discomfort because of his surgery that led to the entire fallout with the organisation.
You know Trent/Kyle Shanahan better than anyone, on the field, what type of tackle are the 49ers getting?
I’ve always felt Trent is one of the top three left tackles in football when healthy, and getting to team up with Kyle Shanahan again is a perfect match. Kyle understands how to use his athleticism with the zone running scheme and in the screen game. Shanahan has added more gap and power schemes in recent years and Trent is as dangerous as anyone in the league when pulling, so that could be fun to watch to. In pass protection, has the feet to stay with any type of speed rusher and the strength to anchor against bull rushes. It has been a luxury in Washington not to have to worry about the left tackle spot, knowing they can leave Trent on an island against anyone, and he’ll likely win the matchup. With him out of the line up last year, we got a taste of what it’s like not to have him, and suddenly you have to do so much more with protection to help the left tackle spot. Tight end chips, backs chipping, protections slides, more play-action, read-option. The Redskins had to use all of those things to try and help the left tackle spot when in years gone by, they could trust Trent to handle it on his own and turn their attention elsewhere.
What was the sentiment went Williams left Washington? Were fans glad to see him go?
I think it was more relief that the situation was finally resolved. I don’t think anyone wanted to lose a player of his stature, especially at that position. I’m sure some of the more extreme fans felt like he betrayed the team, but plenty recognise that him speaking out and holding out finally forced Dan Snyder to move on from Bruce Allen and clear out the people in the building holding the team back. The Redskins should have been able to get more back for him, especially if they had traded him last year when they had far more leverage. I also think Rivera could have gotten him back if he wanted to, but he didn’t want to set a precedent at the start of his tenure to give in to player demands. So overall, I think most fans are a little disappointed to see him go for as little as they got back, but are glad that they don’t have to hear any more talk about it.
Are there any reasons you see this move not working out, or is this a match made in heaven?
The only thing that will prevent this move from working out for the 49ers is Williams’ health. He’s consistently picked up injuries throughout his career, and it feels unlikely that it would suddenly change now that he’s in his 30s. But as long as those injuries are small things, he’ll play through them and play to a high standard. If he’s on the football field, I’d expect he’ll continue to be a top-three left tackle and allow Kyle Shanahan to be even more creative in the run and screen game, as well as sliding help elsewhere in the drop-back passing game.