San Francisco's own all-pro has solidfied himself as the 49ers "Man of Steel." For those of you who haven't seen his most recent K-Swiss commercial, Willis looks bigger than ever and ready for the 2011 season. However, we haven't heard much from the Pro Bowler since the lockout ended. In a franchise that has undergone tweaking on a fairly consistent basis, Willis has become the games best inside linebacker. The comparisons to his number 52 counterpart and future Hall of Fame member, Ray Lewis, have already begun.
Last year after receiving his first contract since being signed as a rookie, Patrick Willis hit the world with some frightening news; he hasn't peaked yet. Going into his 5th year, Willis insists he has room for improvement and looks forward to working on it with defensive co-ordinator Vic Fangio and new linebackers coach Jim Leavitt. Fangio knows Willis can improve in certain areas, saying, "He's behind as a blitzer from a know-how standpoint...he knows that, and he is working diligently both on and off the field to improve that."
The key to Willis' success has been a recycled formula by numerous NFL legends, many of whom are proud owners of a gold jacket. That combination is the one between working hard to get better everyday and God-given natural ability. There is no denying the Pro Bowler is an advocate of this formula; "I'm the last person to be satisfied," said Willis after the first preseason game against the New Orleans Saints.
Although he is one of the best in the world at his position, the mentality he carries with him will only lead to improvement in his game. Since joining the 49ers in 2007, Willis has outperformed what anyone expected of him in a franchise struggling to find it's identity. He has been the model of consistency in a constantly fluctuating football program that was once considered royalty in the league. Willis stands strong because he believes in restoring the attitude of hierarchy to a new 49ers dynasty led by Jim Harbaugh.
What to expect from Willis this year should be a hotter topic than it is but Niners Faithful should be glad Willis is under the radar. It is not unreasonable to expect another Pro Bowl year from the inside linebacker, given that he has not missed one since he entered the league.
Through his tenure, Willis has never recorded double-digit sacks, though he hit his career-high with 6 last season. Fangio's comments could indicate more blitz attempts by Willis this season in the new system. Willis is one of the faster players on the team, especially for his size, but does not get the recognition for it. Most of us at one point or another have seen the clip of him chasing down the Arizona Cardinals' wide receiver behind on a twenty yard head start.
This blazing speed translated positively when it was utilized to pressure the quarterback. In his sacks against Brett Favre, Drew Brees and Jamarcus Russell, Willis slipped right through the line without stopping and was making contact within 3 to 4 seconds after the snap. Although double-digit sacks is not the forte of a middle linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, Willis is definitely capable of it.
Fangio will want to do the unorthodox and send pressure from every position and that means Willis getting his fair share of chances. He will have a shot to reach 10 or more sacks and if not, he may atleast set a new career-high for himself in that category. While we're making bold predictions, I might also suggest Willis as a potential candidate for the leagues Defensive MVP. If the man stays healthy, he is a legitimate contendor and going into his fifth year, it feels ripe for the taking.
He is ready to lead this team by example, which is where he differs from Baltimore's #52, who plays to the tune of his own soundtrack. Willis mentioned he will speak up when he feels he should but other than that, he will let his play do the talking. In the same interview, Willis stated he wasn't getting any younger so this could be his "not-messing-around" year. Keep an eye out for another spectacular season by Patrick Willis in 2011 when the man of steel looks to improve on an already remarkable career.
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