Patrick Willis is entering his seventh year in the NFL. He is widely regarded as one of the best inside linebackers in the league. This is shown by the numerous awards that he has won along with his being named an All Pro in each year that he has been in the NFL. Willis is still going strong and is one of the most sound tacklers in the game. He is one of the most influential players on the 49ers.
When the San Francisco 49ers come together before games, you will see #52 in the middle of the pack getting the troops ready to go. Willis is the emotional leader of the defense. The 49ers have a swarming defense that flocks to the ball as a group. Often times Willis is the first to get there and it’s rare for someone to get away once he gets his hands on them.
Navorro Bowman spoke about how important Willis is to the defense. “If the ball is on the other side of the field, you’ll see that 52 jersey around the ball. That’s the one thing you have to have in a middle linebacker. Patrick has like an extra oxygen tank on his back,” Bowman added. “When you see him around every ball, the rest of the defense follows. If you’re the second guy you may be able to force a fumble. If you put the work in off the field you’re going to have success on the field and he’s a great example of how to be a linebacker.”
Some have started to question whether or not Willis is still the same player. Bowman has become an elite player and that has made it so that Willis doesn’t have to make every play. He still has a presence on the field. The 49ers will use him to match up against tight ends and running backs in man coverage. Bowman is the better of the two at man coverage but Willis still holds his own. He feels that he is still the same player, if not even better.
“For the first time, I really feel like mentally and physically I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since I was a rookie,” said Willis. “Mentally, I feel like I’m in a place I’ve never been before. I feel good. You put me against the youngest, you put me against the oldest, I still feel amazing, I’m ready.”
One thing that Willis has gained with his experience is wisdom. “You don’t have to move as fast if you’re smarter, if you have the knowledge. At this point I’ve learned to be patient, let it come to you,” the first-team All-Pro linebacker said. “Each day you have the opportunity you have to work, make it your best day so when that time comes, you’re ready.”
There really isn’t much that he hasn’t seen in his six years. He has learned how to make the game look easier when he plays it. Others have seen that as well. “He’s the type of player you don’t see very often. He’s very instinctive,” Green Bay Packers guard Josh Sitton said. “He knows how to use his quickness against you and he knows how to use his strength.”
As you watch the 49ers, keep your eyes on Willis. Watch how he flows to the ball, takes on blockers and makes the tackle. One of the things that I like most about him is how he is able knife through blocks and blow up screen plays. Willis is relentless.
There was a classic meeting of Willis and Marshawn Lynch during the recent 49ers vs Seattle Seahawks game. Lynch is one of the hardest running backs to tackle. Let’s look at a few slides to see what happened.
Here you see Aldon Smith was not able to get to Lynch and Willis is in pursuit of the running back. Lynch has a head start but Willis uses his speed to track him down.
Now that Willis has tracked Lynch down, he has him squared up and ready to make the hit. Lynch is attempting to cut back to elude Willis but that is not easy to do against one of the best tacklers in the NFL.
Willis stands Lynch up as the Carlos Rogers and Ray MacDonald come in to make sure Lynch doesn’t get free. Bowman is second to the ball as mentioned above and is looking to cause a fumble.
This play is an example of why Patrick Willis is such a good player. He showed speed and strength on this play. Willis is a great player to watch when the 49ers are on defense. He is one of the best defenders in the game today. Now that the 49ers are winning, he is getting his chance to be seen on a national level.