EDIT 1:50 PM PT: Williams has signed a four-year deal with the team.
Rookie wide receiver Kyle Williams has transitioned with the 49ers as a wide receiver and as a punt returner. For three straight days of OTAs, Williams has worked on his punt returning skills along with veteran Brandon Jones and newcomers Ted Ginn and LeRoy Vann.
Williams was drafted by the 49ers in the sixth round out of Arizona State and could be used not only as a punt returner, but also as the team’s slot receiver.
On Wednesday, I got a chance to talk with Williams after OTAs and he spoke about how baseball compares to punt returning. Williams played centerfield in high school and was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2006. His father, Ken, is the general manager of the White Sox after playing in the majors.
When asked if punt returning was like playing centerfield, Williams said that there are and aren’t similarities.
“It is because you have to judge the distance of the jump of the ball and you have to have to be aware of where you are on the field,” he said after practice. “But after that, everything goes out the window. Baseball, the ball doesn’t jump around like that at all.”
Williams also added that his experience as an outfielder does help out a little in his punt returning skills.
“You can be aware of where you are on the field and you can be able to take the eye off the ball and you can run back, come back and reset,” Williams elaborated. “In that aspect it helps. But punt returns, at the NFL level, is WAY different.”
Williams established himself as a successful punt returner at Arizona State and his ability to catch the ball and break away from tackles clearly was something the 49ers liked in him. Despite having some trouble with punts on a windy Wednesday morning, Williams said that he wants to focus on letting the ball come to him, which was how he approaches all his punts.
“You kind of get comfortable grabbing it so you want to come out and catch it naturally,” said Williams. “You don’t want to come out and reach for it or snap and let it hit off your hands. That’s like taking a pass also. You’ve got to stay relax and stay focused as a returner. You can’t relax too much but then you’ll drop it.”
Punt returning might be the best chance for Williams to make the roster and make a deep impact on the team. Right now, Williams is not getting a lot of playing time at the wide receiver positions. Instead, he gets the majority of his reps as a punt returner.
When asked if this was his best opportunity to make an impact on the team, Williams said that this his best chance to get on the field and show his skills.
“It’s my job and I’ve got to get in right and get in and make an impact when I can and hopefully make the team that way or get on the field that way.”
There was another opportunity on Wednesday for Williams. With the veteran wide receivers out for half the practice while taking a mandatory drug test, Williams and the new wide receivers got their chance to work with the first team offense.
Williams, along with Dominique Zeigler and Ted Ginn were able to work with Alex Smith on third down drills. Williams said he was very glad he had this opportunity to get reps in.
“As soon as I came out there, I said ‘I appreciate it’ because we all got to get reps, the rookies got to get reps,” he said. “That’s really how you learn the offense: doing it physically instead of just watching. It felt good. I got to get into the slot today and I got more comfortable.”
When asked about his growing relationship with Alex Smith, Williams said Wednesday’s practice helped him out a lot.
“More today than any other day I was able to interact with him and David [Carr]. David was pulling me aside giving me a little pointers on what to do. Whenever you can get that veteran leadership and that guidance is great because they let you know that you’re doing something right for them to even come over there and give you a little pointer and so it was good.”
It might be a long shot for Williams to jump the depth chart. He has looked very good in his time as a receiver and out of all the punt returners out there, he looks the most smooth and natural at the position. Williams has a very strong chance of sticking around and making the roster as the team’s top punt returner. He knows that that might be his best chance to make the team. However, by the way he played on Wednesday, he just might be a considerable option as the team’s third down slot receiver.
A few more quotes from Williams:
On his transition to the NFL:
It’s transition to the NFL practice so far. The game level is a whole different animal. It’s going to take a lot more to get used to but I think I’m on the right track.
On being able to come back to the South Bay (his birthplace is San Jose and his father grew up in the South Bay):
I love it here. I’ve been at my grandparents’ house everyday, getting home cooked meals. I love it. I love it.
If his father, Ken Williams, gets a chance to talk with him often:
He’s busy. When I get to the hotel, I study the playbook and fall asleep at 8 O’clock and I miss everybody’s phone calls.
Follow me on Twitter for updates. Check me out here @SLam49ers