Trent Williams is among this generation’s best left tackles.
He is back after a season on the sideline, and there will be no easing back into the game for him.
“Every day, it’s probably the first thing on my mind when I wake up and the last thing on my mind before I go to sleep: How is Week 1 going to be?” Williams said. “How’s it going to be rolling out in front of an empty stadium? How’s it going to be just having to open up with one of the best pass-rushers in the game?
“There are a lot of things to think about when it comes to me thinking about this opener. It’s on my mind constantly.”
The 49ers are set to open the season Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium, where fans will not be permitted through the gates due to the restrictions put into place to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Williams will immediately go up against Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones, a three-time Pro Bowl player who has registered 11 or more sacks in five consecutive seasons.
Jones is at the top of the game. He had 49 sacks in the past three seasons.
It did not take Williams long after being traded from Washington to the 49ers to begin thinking about his Week 1 matchup.
“I turned the film on back in April when I looked at the schedule and saw Arizona was our opener,” Williams said. “Me and him have had some epic battles and we went back and forth a few times. So there’s a lot of tape for me to study on me and him in our matchups.
“I didn’t waste any time. I just started to go over it again. It’s kind of frustrating because he’s a rusher with it all, so no matter how much you study him there’s still that X-factor that he can get you with. That’s what makes him so good.”
Williams has faced Jones three times in their careers. The last time they met was in the season opener of 2018. Jones beat Williams for a sack with an inside move, though he never touched Washington quarterback Alex Smith. But Williams, while trying to ride Jones past the quarterback, inadvertently knocked the ball loose from Smith’s grasp.
The players first met when Jones played for the New England Patriots in 2015. Jones had a sack that day, but it came against the tackle on the other side. They matched up against in 2016. Jones was held to two tackles, one quarterback hit and no sacks. Williams did not play in 2017 when Washington played Arizona.
Williams was one of the standouts in 49ers camp after sliding in seamlessly to replace NFL All-Decade left tackle Joe Staley.
Williams and second-year edge rusher Nick Bosa supplied highlights on the practice field with their one-on-one matchups. After one of their first practices, Bosa assured 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo he was going to be afforded plenty of time to throw this season with his pass protection on the blind side.
Williams, 32, a seven-time Pro Bowl player, stood out with his size, strength, agility and understanding of Kyle Shanahan’s offense, under which he played during his first four NFL seasons.
He sat out all of last season after the discovery of a cancerous growth on his scalp. Williams' relationship with the Washington organization deteriorated due to the medical care he received. After finally reporting to the team when he was not traded at the midseason deadline, Williams spent the remainder of the season on the non-football injury list.
Now, he is healthy, happy and back playing the game he loves.
“I’m feeling good,” Williams said. “Training camp was pretty tough getting through that, but physically I feel like myself. Mentally, I feel like myself. Now it’s to put it on game tape. That’s the hardest part about the NFL, to play consistent on game day.
“I’m excited that I’m back in this position, where I can just think about football. I’m blessed to be in this position. I’m just planning on taking advantage of it.”