The San Francisco 49ers’ defense, typically known for delivering big hits, took a hit of its own with head coach Jim Harbaugh’s announcement that nose tackle Ian Williams is out for the year. Williams, who left the game against the Seattle Seahawks in the first quarter with a broken ankle, was officially placed on Injured Reserve on Tuesday. Fullback Owen Marecic was signed by the 49ers to take Williams’ roster spot. While linebackers in the NFL such as Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman receive much of the praise and recognition for the efforts of their defenses, the nose tackles like Williams do not get as much appreciation. But without the nose tackle doing his job, players like Willis and Bowman cannot do theirs.
The nose tackle, so named because he lines up nose-to-nose with the center of the opposing team’s offensive line, plays a vital role on the defense. At the heart of the defensive line, the nose tackle is responsible for the “A” gaps on each side of the center and is expected to hold the point. Williams, in his third year with the 49ers after spending much of his first two seasons on the bench, earned raves from 49ers teammates like Willis and Alex Boone during 2013 training camp for being able to hold the point. Williams had big shoes to fill with the departure of 49ers veteran tackle Isaac Sopoaga and backup Ricky Jean-Francois in the offseason. Until his injury, Williams appeared to be up to the task.
Now that Williams is gone for the season, Glenn Dorsey is the presumed starter for the 49ers. The team may need to sign a backup player for Dorsey as the only other nose tackle on the roster is rookie Mike Purcell on the practice squad. Dorsey, who signed with the 49ers in the offseason after playing five years for the Kansas City Chiefs, entered the Seahawks’ game after Williams’ injury and promptly delivered a sack of quarterback Russell Wilson. Hopefully that is a sign that Dorsey will perform better in San Francisco than he did in Kansas City where he only had four sacks in his five years. He had a hard time living up to the expectations and pressure that went along with being the fifth overall draft pick by the Chiefs in 2008.
How will Dorsey deal with the pressure as the starting nose tackle for the 49ers? Who will the 49ers assign as his backup? How will the defense feel the impact of Williams’ loss as the 49ers attempt to return to the Super Bowl in 2013? These are important considerations for an important, though often unheralded, position on the field.
Sara DeBord is an NFL writer for www.footballandfutbol.com and www.baysportsreport.com.