Williams first to tumble as roster shakeup begins

From the day Andrew Williams arrived as a third-round draft pick in 2003, the 49ers never really could figure out what to do with him. When he contributed nothing at end as a rookie, the team attempted to bulk up a speed player. When the new regime came in earlier this year, the Niners immediately had Williams lose the extra weight for a move to outside linebacker in the new 3-4 defense. But that didn't work, either, and Williams no longer is a 49er after the team made its first cuts Sunday.

"He's a tweener in my mind," coach Mike Nolan said Sunday after the 49ers trimmed 10 players from the team. The Niners, who currently have 70 players on their roster, must cut two more players by 1 p.m. (PST) Tuesday to get down to the NFL-mandated 65-player limit. They will continue to get three NFL Europe roster exemptions through next week.

Williams was the biggest name to go in the first round of cuts, though cornerback Joselio Hanson made a much larger contribution to the team last season. The Niners also released two other veterans with NFL experience – receiver Javin Hunter and fourth-year offensive guard Paul Zukauskas.

The Niners also waived rookie punter Cole Farden and three first-year players: Safety Arnold Parker, tight end Doug Zeigler and kicker Kirk Yliniemi. The team reached an injury settlement with rookie fullback Brian Johnson.

The 49ers made Williams the 89th player drafted overall in 2003 with the hope he could help pump up the team's pass rush. But that never happened. He played in only three games – making only one tackle – as a rookie. A broken leg in training camp hampered him last year, but he returned at midseason to play in seven games – starting the final three at right end in place of injured Andre Carter.

But he was mostly ineffective, finishing with more than three tackles in a game just once in his San Francisco career, which ended with Williams recording zero sacks for the team.

He was in no-man's land in the new 3-4 system, never displaying all the skills necessary to make it as an outside linebacker. His only chance was to be impressive as a blitzing pass rusher, and that certainly didn't happen in training camp or the preseason, when Williams made no impact in that area.

Seeing that he wasn't going to make the team, Nolan decided to cut Williams now instead of keeping him around for next week's final cut, giving him more of a chance to catch on with another team.

"I thought he made the transition (to linebacker) OK early on, but then it kind of plateau-ed out," Nolan said. "I think he could probably do it a little bit. One of the things I feel, in his case, is we do have ability to go into the next (preseason) game with some depth at the position. I didn't think he was going to make it to the end. I believe in letting him go this week, it will give somebody else an opportunity to work him for a week at maybe a defensive end position or outside linebacker if they want to."

The Niners converted three conventional defensive ends to outside linebacker this year in their 3-4 scheme, and Corey Smith and Andre Carter clearly were out-performing Williams, even though both players – particularly Smith – occasionally got a look in the scheme that had them playing on the line in an end-like position.

"From a competition standpoint, (Williams) was the lesser of the three," Nolan said.

Williams is the first player to be cut this summer from deposed general manager Terry Donahue's drafts of 2003 and 2004, but he won't be the last. At least three others from those two drafts – tight end Aaron Walker (fifth round, 2003), quarterback Ken Dorsey (seventh round, 2003) and linebacker Richard Seigler (fourth round, 2004) – are in jeopardy of losing their jobs by the Sept. 4 deadline for all NFL rosters to cut down to 53 players.

And 2004 first-rounder Rashaun Woods, who has contributed nothing in the first three preseason games, also might not be safe. But it appears improbable the team would cut Woods because of salary-cap ramifications, even if he has been out-performed by other players.

Safety Keith Lewis (sixth round, 2004) and quarterback Cody Pickett (seventh round, 2004) also are in tight competition at crowded positions, but both have shown promise and the team would like to keep each on the final roster.

"Part of cutting down the roster has something to do also with playing this last preseason game," said Nolan, whose team ends the preseason Thursday against the Chargers in San Diego. "You have to consider this last preseason game and make sure you don't put yourself in a bind where you have to play your season starters a lot. That adds a little bit of a challenge."

Also adding to the challenge is the 49ers still need help in several roster areas – and that means the team will be scanning the waiver wire closely over the next seven days.

By virtue of their NFL-worst 2-14 record last year, the 49ers have first crack at any player waived throughout the league. To be sure, the Niners are ready to use those rights to strengthen their depth at positions of need.

Contrary to last year – when the bottom of the roster was a revolving door in late August and early September – the new regime has had few free agents in for workouts this summer while the team attempted to evaluate its talent already on hand.

But that will likely change now, and Nolan said the team may bring in some players this week.

"We're looking at all (positions)," Nolan said. "We have first (waiver) rights. Anyone that comes across, we're investigating the player. There are several spots we're looking for guys."

Which also means there are several spots the 49ers are looking to get rid of guys. Expect the Williams-led cutdown of Sunday to be just the first rumbling of a roster shakeup that will be felt by many players between now and next Sunday – and then again in the next few days after that.

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