SANTA CLARA -- Nose tackle Ian Williams gets the consensus nod, at least through the first week of practices, for the most improved player in 49ers camp.
But guard Alex Boone has a different opinion. He said Williams is doing nothing different this summer as he competes with Glenn Dorsey to replace Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois as the 49ers' starting nose tackle.
"He's always been like that -- explosive, high motor, going to always move to the ball, is never going to stop," Boone said. "He's the kind of guy you like to play against. He gets you good reps (and) really gives you a good feel for how it's going to be in a game."
The 49ers were definitely impressed with Williams' practices the past two seasons. While he appeared in just four games and 39 snaps of game action in his first two NFL seasons, Williams must have done enough to open eyes with his play on the scout team. After all, the 49ers signed him this offseason to a three-year contract extension that included a $1 million signing bonus. The 49ers did not give him a signing bonus as an undrafted free agent in 2011 out of Notre Dame.
Thus far, it appears as if the 49ers' front office made a wise decision.
Williams made a good decision two years ago to accept the 49ers' invitation to training camp, where he surrounded himself with a highly respected defensive line coach, Jim Tomsula, and an outstanding group of mentors on the defensive line. He sat behind Sopoaga and Jean Francois for two seasons, and worked out daily this offseason with Justin Smith and Ray McDonald.
"It was vital to where I am right now," Williams said. "Just coming into a good situation as having a veteran crew around me and guys who really accepted me and took me under their wings, really taught me. Even though I was coming in to compete at the position, those guys really brought me under their wing."
Williams said he speaks regularly with Sopoaga and Jean Francois. Sopoaga and Jean Francois left the 49ers in March to sign free agent contracts with the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts, respectively.
Those departures opened the door for Williams to compete for a starting job at nose tackle. So far, Williams is lining up with the first-team defense while Dorsey has been overshadowed with the second team.
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"He's always been a good worker here," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "He just kicked it up a notch. I think he saw an opportunity. We signed him to an extension, which gave him a message. The two nose tackles that were ahead of him are no longer here.
"I think he's matured as a worker and a professional football player. He's realized his weaknesses and is trying to overcome them and correct them and he's playing good. We'll be fine there between him and Glenn Dorsey."
Williams said he weighed 330 pounds last season. His extensive workout program in the offseason enabled him to report to training camp in the 305-to-310 range. During practices, he has regularly been seen scurrying in the backfield.
"A lot of times, guys think nose guards are just big and just hold the point," 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. "He's a guy who if you single him, he can beat one a one-on-one, and if you double-team him he can hold the point. As a middle linebacker, that's what you love to see."