Photo credit: 49ers
Nowhere else is there a more constant, eye-catching matchup in 49ers camp than on the left side of the offensive line. Rightly hyped before camp began, the billing has fit thus far, with Trent Williams, who had been out of NFL action for a full year-plus, re-igniting himself against Nick Bosa, the league’s reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year and, at No. 17, the highest-ever debuting defensive rookie on the NFL’s Top 100 list, as voted on by players.
Bosa vs. Williams
Thursday featured four reps of one-on-ones between Williams and Bosa, followed by actual 11-on-11 reps which were effectively impossible to see from where reporters observed practice. In those one-on-ones, Williams stuffed Bosa three times before Bosa got the better of Williams, pressuring him into the pocket.
In a game situation, a quarterback would undoubtedly be flushed out of the pocket, but it was not a so-called “clean” beat where Bosa whizzed by Williams, which may explain why it’s being reported that Bosa went 0-for-4 against Williams.
But those don’t really happen against Williams, at least not often, as Bosa said Thursday. His view of 1-on-1s is akin to the ideal mentality of a golfer having just three-putt.
“I try not to get too caught up in the one-on-ones because then it could kind of throw you off for the rest of the practice. You lose a couple, and you might get angry and not focus as hard as the rest of practice, or if you went a couple get too confident going into the next period,” Bosa said. “But a ratio, I try and at least split them, one win, one loss. That’s what I’d hope for. Because you’re not going to beat Trent clean very often, so getting a clean one on him is a good feeling.”
Williams was losing those battles a bit more frequently in the first block of four practices, but not by any egregious margin. He was always going to need a few practices to get his feel back, and it looks like it’s only taken that first slate to get there.
The only player of similar stature Bosa said he’s played against is the hulking, 6’4″, 314-pound Duane Brown of the Seattle Seahawks. Williams, at 6’5″, 318 pounds, has a firm base; unlike the taller, leaner tackles Bosa said he prefers.
No, Williams is “right in your hip pocket,” Bosa said.
“He’s honestly not as tall as I thought he was gonna be which kind of makes him more difficult, because he’s got a really low center of gravity and it’s tough to power him and get underneath him, which is something that I like to use to my advantage,” Bosa said. “And for him, he plays so low to the ground and he can bend so well that he’s never really up high and exposing himself to power and on normal moves that I would usually be happy about and probably beat other offensive lineman with pretty cleanly. He’s right in your hip pocket when you’re making the bursts at quarterbacks, so just his ability to recover and get back in front of you is elite.”
Bosa’s own progress, and why Javon Kinlaw’s is slow
Last year, Bosa told KNBR he’d be working on adding a cross chop and spin move to his arsenal. The foundation he used in his rookie year was borne from his tutelage under legendary defensive line coach Larry Johnson at Ohio State with a triple of speed rush, bull rush and counter moves.
So far, Bosa said he feels more comfort with the spin, especially against Williams.
“The cross chop I haven’t used yet,” Bosa said. “It’s kind of tough on Trent. He doesn’t really give you give you his outside hand. And then the spin, I hit a couple counter spins, I definitely feel more natural using it. So that’s good.”
Bosa, even having missed the vast majority of his junior year due to injury and the decision to sit out, was a ready-made prospect, sculpted by his former NFL father, John, and his brother, Joey. While he missed most of training camp and the preseason, he had an elite knowledge of the game and skilled foundation, and the luxury of OTAs and rookie minicamp.
That time, Bosa said, was invaluable. It also explains why teammates and coaches have described Javon Kinlaw mainly by his size thus far.
The plaudits, to this point, have been about incremental process and the sheer, imposing stature of a man who doesn’t look like your typical rookie. But he was raw coming out of South Carolina, and missing those OTAs and rookie minicamp, with a shortened training camp and no preseason game… it does not help.
Kinlaw may struggle early with more veteran interior lineman, and have an advantage against younger players based on his raw power. His game was expected to take time to refine, and he had less time than he normally would have to work on sharpening it. It’s a time, according to Bosa, when you become familiar with the scheme in a practical setting.
“[OTAs and minicamp were] just great for me, I hadn’t played for a while so it was good to just get my hands and feet tied together and just get back on the field,” Bosa said. “That’s really when you learn the scheme and and get your aiming points and your get off and all the little things that you really need. That’s where you iron them out, and for Javon, he didn’t have that. He had a lot of Zoom meetings and he knows everything mentally, he’s just got to be able to do it at a little higher rate with offenses lining up quickly. But he’s done a really great job and I expect him to make strides throughout camp.”
This is not a “Kinlaw is a bust” warning. Far from that. He’ll get there. But he will need more time than many fans are likely to want to give to him, given that he’s on a team which just competed for a Super Bowl and is replacing DeForest Buckner. He’s a project, but when he gets there, that patience will have been worth the investment.