Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Awe and fear: 49ers teammates discuss Trent Williams the fullback

Jan 28, 2022 at 6:39 AM--

Imagine being an NFL defender, searching the football field for a San Francisco 49ers running back, and then seeing a 6-foot-5, 320-pound offensive lineman posing as a fullback charging your way. That's what Green Bay Packers defenders saw this past weekend while trying to get to Elijah Mitchell.

Trent Williams has proven to be a versatile player for the 49ers. Maybe not quite as versatile as Deebo Samuel, but the offensive tackle has been credited with a receiving target this season. For a couple of plays against the Packers, he took on a fullback role.

The play itself was no different from any other run featuring a lead blocker. However, head coach Kyle Shanahan has tweaked it to include others. On Saturday night, that meant swapping out Kyle Juszczyk for Williams.

"It used to only be Juice, and then we added the tight ends, and then we added running backs, and then we added receivers," Shanahan explained on Thursday. "Trent mentioned it to me a long time ago, kind of halfway joking. And he was the only guy left, and he's probably the best guy you can imagine ever doing it. I can't believe it's legal. It's scary for me to even watch."

How long did it take to perfect the play in practice? Not long, actually. It wasn't something the 49ers needed to rep over and over.

"We did it in a walkthrough the night before we left here [for Green Bay], and it's not something that Trent had to practice too much," Shanahan continued. "He had to just time out the motion with the snap count and run full speed through the D-gap and clean up whoever shows. And when they showed, they got out there pretty fast.

"I thought it was one of the cooler plays I'd seen, just because of who was on it, not because of the play we ran."

The 49ers' offensive coordinator and the man largely responsible for the bulk of the run-play designs, Mike McDaniel, was asked how scary Williams is when he's running in the backfield.

"Have you ever been on the street when a car's driving at you?" McDaniel asked, his way of answering the question. "Yeah, it's scary. It's cool just because it doesn't exist. I just haven't seen that. And there's a man that moves that fast with that much power."

One of the best defensive ends in football, Nick Bosa, is glad he doesn't have to go against Williams outside of practice. He's especially delighted he doesn't have to face a charging Williams coming his way.

"That would be pretty scary," Bosa admitted. "He's a beast, and you definitely want to find as many ways to gain advantages as you can when you have a guy like that on your team."

Williams has the athleticism of smaller offensive linemen and the strength of a player his size. That's why he's been selected to nine Pro Bowls and was just named a first-team All-Pro.

"It's cool to watch how big he is and how fast he is," McDaniel continued, "but when you watch that play, specifically, his assignment was to set the edge in the D-gap, right between the two tight ends. And there was like a sliver this big. Our tight ends and fullbacks have been doing that for a couple of years now. And even they were like, 'This is his first rep? Wow.' It tells you a lot about how slow the game is for him and how talented he is at the game of football, not just being athletic."

McDaniel added that watching Williams run the play in practice for the first time created a buzz for the next five or so reps. Even though they practiced the play, running it in a game was enough to nearly terrify the team's All-Pro tight end.

"I could hear the footsteps at Lambeau," Kittle said. "Tom Compton jumps the snap, just hits it just perfect, so I'm slow off the ball because of it. And the next thing I know, I'm getting knifed from the front side, and then Trent Williams is blowing through that D-gap. And next thing I know, I'm on the ground with 600 pounds on top of me. So yeah, it's a little frightening, but it is what it is, and it was a first down, so I'm going to accept it."

What did Mitchell, the running back benefiting from the block, think about his 320-pound fullback on the play?

"When we ran it in practice the first day, all I could do was laugh because it's unlikely for somebody being as big as Trent to go into motion like that and block in a game," Mitchell said. "He really knocked the dude down. It was awesome to see, though, for him to be able to do that."

Unfortunately, Williams has not practiced this week. He is dealing with an ankle injury suffered against the Packers. However, the 49ers remain hopeful that the big offensive lineman will be available for Sunday's NFC Championship matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.

"He's doing treatment around the clock, I think making really good progress," general manager John Lynch said on Thursday. "While he hasn't been on the field as of yet, I suppose 'hopeful' is the right word. But I, like Kyle, never doubt Trent Williams."

If Williams can play, Kittle has another idea to utilize the 49ers' big man better.

"Let's just hand him off the ball one of these times because I don't think anyone's going to tackle him," Kittle suggested.

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