Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

49ers OT Trent Williams raves about rookie OL Jason Poe, franchise’s roster building

Aug 23, 2022 at 3:11 PM--

All-Pro offensive tackle Trent Williams certainly knows talent when he sees it, having been around the NFL for more than a decade. And he's been seeing a heavy amount of talent since coming to the San Francisco 49ers, including one rookie in particular on this year's team who has been starting to make waves.

Williams spoke to reporters after practice on Tuesday, with the quality of the team's young players being among multiple topics of discussion. The player who was given several minutes of Williams' time on Tuesday was Jason Poe, who has emerged in recent weeks as a candidate to snag a roster spot as an undrafted rookie at guard.

Poe has always been an intriguing addition to the 49ers after playing both fullback and offensive line during his college career, which included stops at Lenoir-Rhyne University and Hutchinson Community College before finishing up at FCS school Mercer University. He's undersized for an offensive lineman (6-1, 300), but he's athletic, fast (4.89 40) and strong. And he's making an impression on Williams and the rest of the 49ers.

"I can't speak for him to say whether he felt like he belonged," Williams said Tuesday. "He always looked like he belonged. The confidence he plays with with his attributes -- the low center of gravity, his natural leverage, and he's strong as an ox and he's quick as a cat. So having those attributes to me, I would assume he knows he belongs."

Williams seemed skeptical about Poe's listed height when it was mentioned on Tuesday ("Is he 6-1???" Williams asked with a quizzical look), and he wasn't sure if Mercer considered itself a college, a university, or something else ("I didn't know. I didn't want to throw that university out there and it was a college or an ITT Tech situation," Williams said). But he's seen enough of Poe to know he has some unique gifts that aren't typically seen among players on the interior of the offensive line.

"He could be 6-3, who knows," Williams said. "He could be 5-11, we don't know. But that naturally gives him leverage. But he's explosive. He's a very quick guy. Even if you get him, he always has a chance to recover, which is not common coming from an offensive guard position. Usually those guys don't have a lot of room to recover when they do have a chance to recover. But you just never really see that type of athleticism coming from the guard position. And I think that's why he's been successful. He uses his attributes to his strength -- what we may see as his weakness."

Mercer isn't exactly known as a football factory. After suspending football in 1941, Mercer didn't even have a scholarship program until the university started it back up in 2010. Before Poe, Mercer had produced just one NFL player since the 1930s, and that was former Broncos tight end Wesley Duke, who was a college basketball player. But Poe is well on his way to making the jump from Mercer to a 53-man NFL roster, and he's doing so by holding his own against one of the NFL's most talented defensive lines.

"There's still a long way to go," Williams said. "It's just the first training camp. There's so much he hasn't seen yet. But he is definitely ahead of the curve, definitely playing a lot better than anybody could imagine being where he came from and the type of football he played last year. For him to be blocking Javon Kinlaw and guys like that, coming from Mercer -- and I don't know his university or whatever it is, but coming from Mercer -- I'm pretty sure he didn't see too many guys who looked like 99 (Kinlaw) or 91 (Arik Armstead). So the fact he even comes out here and he's able to put his best foot forward every day and continue to get better, I think that says a lot about him."

Poe has wisely been taking the chance to learn whatever he can from Williams since joining the 49ers in the spring. Is he a "baby" version of Williams? Maybe in some respects, even if he's never going to be mistaken for the 6-5, 320-pound Williams in terms of size.

"I definitely see it in his athleticism, his strength," Williams said. "I've seen it this offseason. I've seen his work ethic. He has what they call that dog in him -- that stuff you can't teach. I think if he continues to stay on the track he's on, I think he's going to be a good player in this league for a long time and a good player for this franchise."

Discovering and developing players like Poe is a big reason why the 49ers have been able to create one of the league's deepest and most talented rosters. Williams first saw that depth after being traded to the 49ers from Washington in 2020 when he noticed then-undrafted rookie Azeez Al-Shaair at practice, and he's been seeing more of it each year ever since.

"They did an incredible job building this roster from top to bottom," Williams said. "That's one thing I've grown accustomed to coming here. When I came, I don't even think Azeez was a starting linebacker. I think it was Kwon (Alexander). But me seeing Azeez in practice, I'm like, 'This dude's pretty good. I don't know how long they're going to be able to keep him on the second team.' I bring up that example because it's been like that for the majority of my time here. I always see younger guys, and you continue to see them blossom, and they continue to make strides, and they continue to take heed to the coaches, and they continue to develop. I think it's just hats off to the front office, the coaching staff. They do an amazing job."

Williams and the 49ers are hoping to see that success in roster building carry over to the interior of this season's offensive line. The 49ers could be installing as many as three new starters at the guard and center positions, with the frontrunners being second-year player Aaron Banks and rookie Spencer Burford at guard and veteran Jake Brendel at center. It's also possible that veteran and former starter Daniel Brunskill could make a push at center, or maybe Poe could even wind up forcing himself into the lineup at guard at some point. But whoever winds up getting the nod at those positions, Williams is happy with what he's seen and thinks the talent is there to not miss a beat after losing two standouts in guard Laken Tomlinson (free agency, New York Jets) and center Alex Mack (retirement) over the offseason.

"I feel really good," Williams said. "Obviously Jake is new, or if it's Dan, Dan played a lot of football for us. Even though Jake wasn't in the starting lineup last year, he's still a dude with a lot of knowledge, played a lot of ball, and can get guys going in the right direction. I know that the inside is new, but to me it doesn't feel like we're in some type of rebuilding phase or anything. We've got a second-rounder we plugged in in Aaron Banks. We've got, what was Spence, a fourth-rounder I believe? And he's a guy that probably has first, second-round talent. We got a steal in the fourth round. So it's not like we're putting journeymen in there. These are guys they drafted with a purpose, and a purpose to help this franchise. I think they're doing the best job they can do, and we'll see during the season. That's really the only real measuring stick you can kind of use."


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