After two days of the 2017 draft, running back Joe Williams was not even on the 49ers’ draft board.
But through the persistence of coach Kyle Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner, 49ers general manager John Lynch reconsidered. Williams’ talent was obvious. But some questions remained after Williams took a hiatus during his final season at Utah. But when Williams rejoined his college team, he was better than ever.
Wiiliams said a personal struggle of the past 10 years -- being there when his sister passed away -- led to him step away from the game to confront some of those issues. After Lynch spoke with Williams over the phone in the morning of Day 3 of the draft, he was placed on the team's draft board. The 49ers traded up to select him the No. 121 overall pick.
Williams had a rough training camp as a rookie, and the 49ers placed him on injured reserve with a minor foot injury. Shanahan did not mince words when asked on Friday if he second-guessed himself for going to bat for Williams a year ago.
“Yeah, of course,” Shanahan said. “You think that with everybody. I do believe in Joe’s ability and his talent. That’s why we wanted him here.
“You’ve got to be talented and it’s got to mean a lot to you. I think it does to Joe. But I think it’s taken him time to see the difference and the urgency that it takes to succeed at this level.”
Williams has run with more urgency during training camp this summer. And he appears more willing to sacrifice his body and take the hits required from the position.
“Joe wasn’t quite as ready last year and that does make you wonder, because you can’t succeed if you don’t have that mindset,” Shanahan said. “But I’ve seen it this year. I saw it in the way he worked and I feel that he fixed his body, got a lot more muscle and got in better shape.
“But you really never know until you put the pads on because he showed it in OTAs and we’ve had the pads on for a while now and it’s been what we were hoping to see. Hopefully it will continue over to games.”
Williams is likely to compete against special-teams ace Raheem Mostert for the job as the 49ers’ No. 3 running back behind Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida.
Wrapping mind around helmet rule
Those who play the safety position are likely to face the biggest challenge when it comes to avoiding penalties associated with the NFL's new helmet rule.
This week, referee Ron Torbert and his crew officiated practices in Santa Clara and met with the players to discuss rules interpretations. Topic No. 1 was the new rule that makes it illegal for any player to lower his head and initiate contact with the helmet. The players watched video examples of legal and illegal hits.
“There were a few plays, like, ‘Wow, if I’m trying to tackle a guy low and he ducks and I hit him with my facemask, what can I do then?’” 49ers strong safety Jaquiski Tartt said. “At a point, it’s like we might as well be playing two-hand touch.
“I feel like it’s still in the gray area. We work on trying to keep the head out of the way, so I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”
Still getting up to speed
The 49ers evaluated center Weston Richburg as a good fit for their scheme due to his smarts and athletic ability, requirements for the team’s offensive linemen.
The center must be the focal point of the offensive line because of the communication required from the position. Richburg is still learning Shanahan’s system.
“I know I have some more work to do in that aspect,” Richburg said. “I want to be able to be very consistent and very dependable with what my responsibilities are. I’m glad we have several more weeks of camp, so I can really work on those things and become a consistent person they can trust up front.”
McGlinchey’s up and downs
Right tackle Mike McGlinchey, the 49ers’ pick with the No. 9 overall slot in the draft, has his hands full in his first training camp. Defensive end Cassius Marsh has been seemingly winning most of the battles during one-on-one drills, and outside linebacker Dekoda Watson beat McGlinchey twice during a three-play period during an 11-on-11 session on Friday.
That is all part of the learning experience, Shanahan said.
“Those guys are going against each other every day,” Shanahan said. “Guys should beat you eventually. Hopefully the quarterback gets rid of the ball. Sometimes you have a halfback in there to chip him, things like that. But, him and Marsh have been battling a lot. I think McGlinchey is getting better and I also think our D-Line is getting better. So it’s been a fun battle for all of those guys.”