49ers

Ex-49ers NT Ian Williams shares details of career-ending ankle condition

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AP

Ex-49ers NT Ian Williams shares details of career-ending ankle condition

Nose tackle Ian Williams, who sustained fractures to his left ankle in back-to-back seasons, finally made it through an entire season healthy.

Williams experienced a breakout year with the 49ers in 2015, and was set up for a big payday as an unrestricted free agent. And on the eve of free agency, the 49ers agreed to terms with Williams on a five-year contract worth a reported $27.5 million.

But less than two weeks later, then-general manager Trent Baalke told reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton, Florida, Williams had failed a physical due to an ankle condition. The sides worked out a revised one-year contract.

Williams never played another snap for the 49ers, and on Tuesday he revealed details about the complications from two ankle fractures that ended his career just as he was reaching his prime football years.

“It was a tough time,” Williams said on the 49ers Insider Podcast.

Neither the 49ers nor Williams’ agent disclosed any information about the cause or extent of Williams' physical condition. Williams said he initially heard speculation he injured himself in an accident involving an all-terrain vehicle. He said nothing could have been further from the truth.

Williams said he was walking around Los Angeles with friends early in the 2016 offseason when he first began to feel something was wrong with his ankle. And sensation continued to worsen as he went to Miami to begin his offseason training program.

“I had some surgeries to clear up – I had a bad infection that came back that kept me out longer heading into the 2014 season,” Williams said.

“It was really bad. Luckily, they caught it in time so that I could have the surgeries and get it cleaned out. It basically destroyed my joints. That’s why I haven’t been able to resume my career.”

Williams said he had five or six surgeries over a period of a couple of months in 2016. He knew early on that his football career was over. And if the infection had not been discovered until much later, the consequences could have been even-more devastating.

“After the first surgery I kind of knew then from what the doctor told me what happened and what was going on with my ankle,” Williams said. “Right then and there, it was a pretty rough time in the hospital with my mom.”

Williams, now 28, continues to undergo therapy and rehabilitation on his ankle in the Bay Area, he said.

“I’m doing much better these days,” he said.

“(I’m) trying to get this ankle as good as it can be, so I can play with my kids and do stuff as I get older.”

The initial injury in Week 2 of the 2013 season was the result of a since-outlawed chop block from then-Seattle right guard J.R. Sweezy, who dove at Williams’ legs while attempting a back-side block on a run play to the left.

Williams underwent surgery and missed the final 14 games of the season due to a fractured left lower leg. Williams said he did not use proper technique on the play. It was a large price to play for making a simple mistake.

“That was on me, not being on my P’s and Q’s and not running with the play,” Williams said. “I think I false-stepped the wrong direction first before he dove into my ankle. Just the fact that you make one mistake, you shouldn’t have someone diving at your ankle. If a receiver makes a mistake, you don’t have someone diving at his ankle or knee.

“I’m just glad that they changed that rule. They’re doing more player safety rules now, so I’m really, really excited about that for the future.”

The NFL passed a rule in 2016 that eliminates all forms of chop blocks.

Williams re-fractured his left lower leg after appearing in nine games of the 2014 season. He returned at the beginning of the 2015 season and played in a career-high 16 games before developing the career-ending complications in the offseason.

“It’s always tough to face reality and know that the chapter you’re in is about to close,” he said.

Former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has high praise for Kyle Shanahan

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USATSI

Former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has high praise for Kyle Shanahan

Jim Harbaugh's four seasons as the 49ers' head coach left him with a 44-19-1 record, three NFC Championship Game appearances, and zero seasons with a sub-.500 record. 

He's now on the sidelines at the University of Michigan as the team's head coach. But he doesn't forget his time with San Francisco and keeps tabs on current 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.

"I can tell you this: I like watching their tape, especially on offense," Harbaugh told The Athletic's Tim Kawakami. "A lot of creative things and kind of on a weekly basis. I enjoy trying to — I wouldn't say steal because, in football, you don't regard it as stealing things. You regard it as doing your homework. I do enjoy that."

He also credits Shanahan's offensive mind as it translates on the field.

"He's very creative in the game planning," Harbaugh said. "You see plays that work, that get somebody uncovered. That's hard to do, get somebody uncovered on a passing play or a blocking scheme where there's a big hole. That doesn't happen that often."

[RELATED: Five incredibly bold predictions for 49ers season]

He also said this mentality is something Shanahan is better at "than most of us."

Harbaugh told Kawakami that he's still in contact with some of his former players with the Niners as well. He still talks to Frank Gore and gets family videos from his former defensive end, Justin Smith. And on the former coaching staff side, he's still keeping tabs on defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who was hired as the Denver Broncos head coach during the offseason. 

At least Shanahan knows there is always someone watching him. 

Jerry Rice wishes Odell Beckham Jr. luck in NFL receiving record chase

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AP

Jerry Rice wishes Odell Beckham Jr. luck in NFL receiving record chase

Jerry Rice seems well aware of how far Odell Beckham Jr. has to go. 

The Cleveland Browns wide receiver said in a GQ interview released Monday that his goal is to catch Rice's all-time record of 22,895 receiving yards. The 49ers legend's response? Good luck with that. 

Through five seasons, Beckham has 5,476 receiving yards to his name. That's good for 16th-most in NFL history through five years, and 888 off of Rice's pace. Playing in just 12 games in 2017 didn't help Beckham's chase, as he has now played in 17 fewer games than the Hall of Famer. 

Had Beckham played in those games, he conceivably could have matched -- or even exceeded -- Rice's early-career production. Applying his 92.8 receiving yards-per-game average, Beckham would have nearly an additional 1,600 receiving yards if he had played in as many games as Rice.

That would have made him the most productive receiver through the first five years of their career in NFL history. 

That's as inexact a way of projecting performance as one can utilize, but it's still instructive. Beckham faces an uphill climb to catch Rice, but he was productive enough early in his career to think he can reach him if he stays healthy. It also goes without saying that forming a QB-receiver tandem with Baker Mayfield bodes far better for his prospects than playing with late-career Eli Manning -- or early-career Daniel Jones, for that matter. 

[RELATED: Why 49ers' Witherspoon believes he will be back in 2019]

Still, Beckham is 17,419 yards away from catching Rice. If he wants to catch him in 10 seasons, he'd need to average over 1,700 yards per campaign. His 16-game average is 1,485 yards, so he wouldn't need to wade to far into a second decade as long as he maintains his current level of production.

Those are a lot of caveats to consider, though, and Beckham will need much more than Rice's best wishes to break his record.