Williams out with broken leg

It was just your average scrum during practice when a bunch of linemen make contact after a snap and get tangled in the trenches during morning padded team drills. But when the pile unfolded, second-year defensive end Andrew Williams did not get up.

Williams, grimacing in pain, was wheeled from the field on a cart and was taken in for X-rays, which revealed a fractured left fibula that is expected to keep him out for up to six weeks.

Williams, the team's third-round draft choice in 2003, was making a strong bid for extended playing time in the line rotation after appearing in just two games as a rookie last season.

The University of Miami product had made major strides during the offseason, packing on about 15 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame and impressing coaches with his speed, aggression and improved technique so far this summer.

Coach Dennis Erickson, in talking about Williams' progress the morning before he was hurt, said, "He is more physical and he is in better shape. He is much more confident in what he is doing. He is a much better player right now. Andrew didn't play a lot last year, so he is going to get a lot of playing time in the preseason and we will see exactly where he is at."

Now Williams' development will be further thwarted and the Niners will have to scratch him from their plans, at least during the early stages of the season. The team was counting on Williams to provide some change-of-pace pass-rushing push in the rotation at defensive end.

And just like that, the Niners have depth problems at the position behind starters Andre Carter and John Engelberger.

Williams' injury leaves the 49ers practicing without their top two projected reserves behind Carter and Engelberger. Brandon Whiting, traded to the Niners from Philadelphia for receiver Terrell Owens during the offseason, is on the team's physically unable to perform list with an injured left shoulder, and it still is unknown if he'll be able to participate in training camp or be ready to contribute at the start of the season.

PADS POPPING AT GOAL LINE: The 49ers scrimmaged for the first time this summer when they conducted a spirited session of short-yardage and goal-line drills to conclude the morning practice.

There was plenty of excitement and celebration on both sides of the ball as coaches presided over all-out, total team contact for one of the few times during camp.

"To me, at this point, the only way you can get anything out of goal line is you have to go live," Erickson said. "That's the nature of the game. That's the only way you can learn how to play. It's me on you, and let's go from the one-yard line. You've got to get off and frickin' knock somebody backwards or get off and knock somebody the other way."

Erickson said the Niners may practice similar drills when they practice in full game uniforms during the 49ers Fan Day session on Saturday at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.

Then, Erickson said, the next time the Niners will have live full-contact scrimmaging probably will be their Aug. 14 exhibition opener against the Oakland Raiders.

Jamal Robertson, who has taken the lead in the competition to be Kevan Barlow's backup at tailback, made a great effort to get into the end zone, getting stuck hard behind the line but managing to bounce off and stretch his body over the goal line.

"That was a great effort by Jamal," Erickson said. "When you get down there (near the goal line), you've got to be doing the right things. On both sides, everybody's going to be down in there. Inside the one, inside the two-yard line … In this league, it's hard to get it in the end zone."

CHANGES AT TIGHT END: The 49ers signed tight end Kevin Ware on Wednesday and released rookie tight end Kevin Zurecki.

Ware, who had a tryout with the team on Tuesday, played last season as an undrafted rookie for the Washington Redskins. He started two games and caught three passes for 17 yards.

The 49ers are looking to improve their depth at tight end behind starter Eric Johnson and backup Aaron Walker. Johnson, who missed the entire 2003 season with a broken collarbone, dislocated his thumb in practice Saturday. He has a torn ligament in the thumb and will practice the rest of this month with a soft cast on his hand.

SCOUT PROMOTED: The Niners announced that they have promoted Brian Gardner to the position of national scout. Gardner, in his 10th year with the team, previously has served with the 49ers as a regional scout.

"We are excited to have Brian Gardner with us as national scout," Niners general manager Terry Donahue said. "He will still be covering his same region as before, but will now be doing more on the national level to evaluate more players for the organization. He is an extremely capable and very knowledgeable personnel man who certainly warrants this promotion. I am certain that Brian has a tremendous future in the area of personnel in the NFL."

Prior to joining San Francisco in 1995, Gardner spent three seasons as a scout for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

SIDELINED: Also missing practice with injuries were receivers Rashaun Woods (hamstring), Arland Bruce (hamstring) and Kahlil Hill (hip), defensive tackles Anthony Adams (ankle) and Isaac Sopoaga (lower back), cornerback Ahmed Plummer (groin) and center Jeremy Newberry (patella).

Niners Digest Top Stories