SANTA CLARA – Rookie running back Joe Williams showed few signs of the player who impressed 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner during their pre-draft evaluations.
Williams did not practice with much urgency in the team’s first four practices of training camp. But since the 49ers returned from a day off, Williams has looked like a different player.
“I saw it myself and Coach Bobby T. had a talk with me,” Williams said on Friday. “(I) just told him to keep coaching me and keep staying on me. He’s been that type of positive figure since I came in before the draft. One of the reasons I’m so happy to be here and be under his wing. He’s going to be on me for as long as I’m here.”
Carlos Hyde has gotten off to a good start during training camp to seemingly secure his spot as the top back, but Williams is coming on strong in his bid to earn a significant role as a rookie.
“I thought he had his best day yesterday and then it seemed like today was better than that,” Shanahan said. “So I thought he’s put two good practices in a row. It takes time with some of these guys. By no means has he arrived with two good practices. That’s why I try not to jump to too many conclusions after each practice.
“He got a couple good looks yesterday, which sometimes that’s what they need to spring a little bit of confidence. We’re always hoping it will click because we know he’s got some ability.”
Shanahan told Peter King of the MMQB shortly after the conclusion of Day 2 of the draft, “I’m telling you right now: If we don’t get him, I’ll be sick. I will be contemplating Joe Williams all night.”
In the past three practices, Williams has looked more like the player who averaged 6.7 yards per rushing attempt and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 at the NFL scouting combine. Early in camp, undrafted Matt Breida was clearly the 49ers' top rookie running back.
On Friday, Williams made a decisive cut to find a hole and a big gain on one 11-on-11 snap. In a move-the-chains period of practice, he gained 4 yards on a fourth-and-1 play. He concluded practice with a good burst of speed to go untouched on a gain of 20-plus yards.
Williams’ solid showing was one of the highlights of a day in which a handful of rookies stood out:
--Quarterback C.J. Beathard and tight end Cole Hikutini teamed up for a deep pass, on which Beathard showed good touch to drop it just beyond the outstretched arm of fellow rookie linebacker Reuben Foster, who was 25 yards down the field in coverage.
--Foster had another interception, but he owed this one to cornerback Prince Charles Iworah, who dislodged Matt Barkley’s pass out of the hands of running back Matt Breida. Foster was in the right spot to catch the deflected ball.
--Shortly after his interception, Foster went down with an apparent left ankle injury. He got up under his own power and hobbled off the field, but he was back in the action just a short time later.
--Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon had his best individual play of training camp when he broke up Brian Hoyer’s pass for Pierre Garçon.
--Safety Chanceller James had a strip-sack of Hoyer, and Chris Jones scooped it up for a fumble recovery to end one move-the-chains possession for the first-team offense.
--Rookie slot receiver Trent Taylor had another solid day, including an 18-yard reception at the sideline on a pass from Hoyer.
--Second-year cornerback Rashard Robinson made a leaping pass breakup of Beathard’s well-thrown deep ball intended for Aldrick Robinson. Safety Eric Reid aggressively defended a pass to prevent Kapri Bibbs from the reception of a Barkley pass.
--Veteran nickel back K’Waun Williams made the interception of a desperation Barkley pass during a two-minute drill.
--Defensive lineman Aaron Lynch was excused from practice due to the birth of his second child, Samson John Lynch, who was born two months premature, Lynch revealed on social media.
Said Shanahan, “Aaron had a baby in the middle of last night. Not him, his wife. It sounds good. I talked to him through text in the middle of the night, but everything seems like it checked out fine and I’ll talk to him here when we’re over.”
--DeForest Buckner (ankle) and Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) did not practice. Both are listed as day to day, along with linebacker Donovin Newsom. Tight end George Kittle (hamstring) went through individual drills. Linebackers Brock Coyle (ribs) and Eli Harold (concussion), along with cornerback Zach Franklin (ankle) and offensive lineman J.P. Flynn (knee) are expected to miss more time.
--The 49ers will hold an open practice at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday morning. It is their own scheduled practice that is open to the general public. Tickets are still available at 49ers.com.