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August 8, 2012
49ers have tough decisions on the defensive line


Ian Williams admits it wasn't pretty last year in training camp when 331-pound left guard Mike Iupati came his way on a down block. This year, he's better prepared for the avalanche.

Williams, a nose tackle, said Wednesday that he's up to 320 pounds, 10 pounds heavier than he was at this point a year ago. "I just feel better," he said. "I'm actually heavier, but I feel lighter on my feet. My technique feels better, and that's from all the sessions with the strength staff and coach T."

Coach T is assistant coach Jim Tomsula, who once again has a full stable of talented youngsters along the defensive line. Last season the 49ers kept seven linemen on the 53-man roster. That's a lot for a 3-4 defensive team, and the 49ers have been looking for creative ways to keep them all this year.

Demarcus Dobbs and Will Tukuafu, for example, have spent big chunks of the spring and summer practice sessions on offense. Dobbs has even gone so far to change his practice jersey from No. 92, a defensive lineman's number, to no. 40, which tight ends can wear. He's looked comfortable at his offensive position, so comfortable, in fact, that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was asked if he was worried about losing the second-year player to the offense.

"He is getting better as a tight end, and I think he's a viable option for us as a tight end," Fangio said. But he said Dobbs is still "primarily" a defensive player, and Dobbs likely will enter Friday's preseason game quickly as Justin Smith's backup at right defensive end.

Williams, meanwhile, is the least versatile of the young lineman. He's taken the lion's share of his snaps at nose tackle, which would seem to make him vulnerable on cut-down day. The second-year player, however, has two things going for him.

First, both the starter at nose tackle, Isaac Sopoaga, and his backup, Ricky Jean Francois, are in the final year of their contracts. Second, Williams has had several strong practices this week and also stands to see a lot of playing time Friday.

Said Williams: "I don't think about the numbers. I just go out there every day and prove why I should be here and why I should be on the team. That's all I'm worried about."

Safety Cory Nelms got another excused absence today, this time to watch girlfriend T'erea Brown run in the finals of the 400-meter hurdles. Brown finished sixth, but Nelms said he wasn't disappointed at all.

"I'm definitely proud of her," he said. "I'm definitely sure she went out there and did her best. I'm thinking maybe - it's been a long week - and peaking two times back to back, that's a lot on your body. Maybe that's all she had this year."

Nelms said his heart was "pumping out of his chest" as he watched the race. The two started going out in 2008 at the University of Miami. Both were on the track team. Nelms also was a walk-on on the football team.

Nelms said he Brown may have had a disadvantage running in lane 2. "I think so. Because the curve is definitely tighter. And when you look ahead, and you all the way up to lane 9, it looks like they're a mile away. So it definitely affects your race psychologically."

"This is only her second year as a pro," he noted. "She'll definitely get stronger, get faster and just mature. In any sport you're in, I think as you get older, you mature and get a little bit better."

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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