SANTA CLARA, Calif. — After more than 570 days since he last played, San Francisco 49ers left tackle Trent Williams entered training camp as the rare seven-time Pro Bowler who actually wishes there were preseason games to play.
Since there aren’t, Williams has settled for the next best thing in his first season with the Niners: daily matchups against defensive end Nick Bosa, the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Williams has walked away from those battles overwhelmingly impressed with Bosa. In fact, Williams believes Bosa has the makings of an all-time great.
“He’s better than I even thought he was — and I already knew he was top three, four in the game,” Williams said Saturday. “But just going up against him every day, seeing how smart he is, seeing how hard he works and just seeing how seriously he takes the game, I honestly see his trajectory as being one of the best in the game.”
That’s certainly high praise for Bosa, who burst on the scene after being selected with No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft. In his lone NFL season, Bosa finished with nine sacks, was second in the NFL with 80 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, and found himself ranked as the 17th best player in the league as voted on by his peers.
That all happened in a season in which Williams stayed away from football and his spot as Washington’s left tackle as he awaited a trade following disputes over the handling of his injury issues and his contract.
Williams said he could see how talented Bosa was, watching from afar. But it wasn’t until the duo began squaring off in this training camp that he began to have a better understanding of Bosa’s ultimate ceiling.
“When it’s all said and done, I think when you say who is the best pass-rusher/all around D-end, I think Nick Bosa’s name will probably be the first name to come out of a lot of people’s mouth,” Williams said. “And it’s a blessing for me because I’m able to go against him every day. We’re able to talk, kind of walk each other through how we’re thinking, and it’s been a great help to me. I couldn’t have planned a better camp as far as learning-wise and knocking the rust off.”
Indeed, the Bosa-Williams matchup has been the must-see event of 49ers training camp through the first week. Whether it’s one-on-one in individual pass rush drills or going head-to-head in team drills, Bosa and Williams have offered their own version of a heavyweight fight every day.
“It’s been really cool to watch,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “You’ve got two extremely talented guys, but the cool thing about them is you’ve got two guys who really understand their technique and the position. Trent, with the years he’s been in the league, with his talent; and Nick has understood technique, I always joke about, since he came out of the womb because he’s been made to rush the passer. So watching those two go together, it’s pretty cool.”
More often than not, Williams seems to come out on top, but Bosa, who did not practice Saturday with what Shanahan called a “maintenance day,” consistently gives him all he can handle.
And, as Williams offered high praise for Bosa, Bosa returned the favor earlier in the week.
“For me, going against Trent, it’s just trying to win whatever way I can,” Bosa said. “I try to split them. At least split them — one win, one loss; that’s what I hope for. You’re not gonna beat Trent clean very often, so getting a clean win on him is a good feeling.”