Earlier this week, 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis met with the media to discuss a little bit of everything. The San Jose Mercury News transcribed his comments, and we got a chance to learn a little more about how Willis is preparing for his seventh year in the league. It's an odd feeling because it feels like he's been with the 49ers forever, and yet I'm not sure if six seasons is really as long as it seems.
My favorite comment from Willis this week was about what he learned this camp to improve his game:
"I learned this camp that you don't have to move as fast if you're smarter," Willis said. "It almost looks like you're not moving at all but you're making the plays. That's where I'm trying to get to in my career."
So basically, Patrick Willis is looking to develop a Jedi mind trick to tackle people, right?
But seriously, this fits into the notion of figuring out how to evolve with the game. Patrick Willis has mastered so many elements of the game of football, but there is always room for improvement. In his case, it's a matter of becoming more efficient. If he can put himself in a position to exert himself less, that will make him all the more effective late in games, and of course later in the season. He's only 28 years old, but NFL players seem to age in dog years. As he continues to age, he will need to figure out ways to impact games even as he eventually starts to lose a step. Figuring this out now while he is still in his athletic prime will only help later in his career.
Speaking of which:
"I was just telling my chiropractor the other day and telling one of my friends, I feel like, for the first time, going into my seventh year now, I really feel like mentally and physically, I'm in the best shape that I've been in since I was a rookie. I feel like mentally, I'm in a place that I've never been before."
If you are offensive players, hearing this from Patrick Willis is a scary thought.
Willis' Q&A was also interesting for his discussion of rookies Nick Moody and Corey Lemonier. Moody is an inside linebacker, so he is in the meetings with Willis. However, his primary focus is on special teams. Willis addressed this briefly:
Nick's one of those guys, he comes in, he pays attention. He don't say a lot, he asks a question here or there, Coach always has him after meetings. They go over a lot of stuff. Of course, me, (Bowman), some of the other guys talk to him as well. He's a guy, who certainly I feel like is going to be able to step up for us big in the special teams because we lost Delanie (Walker) and Tavares Gooden.
Willis also spoke about Corey Lemonier:
"Corey, he's getting it. It's not coming as fast to him, but he's working every day. Coach Vic (Fangio) is working with him. Coach (Peter Hansen), I know they're going to have him ready so if he does have to step in there he'll be ready to go."
While Moody is focusing on special teams, Lemonier is dealing with learning about the outside linebacker position. He spent his college years primarily in a defensive end role, so he has to learn the role of standing up in the defense. He can use his pass rushing skills, but he also has to understand coverage. I imagine his first year will focus primarily on the pass rush role, but there will be plenty for him to learn.
I still see Lemonier in an Aldon Smith type role. He would focus on the pass rush and slowly get more responsibility after his rookie season. He would not get the same number of snaps as Aldon got his rookie season, but he would get a chance to spell Smith and Brooks. Preseason action will give us a better idea of where Lemonier stands with even just his basic pass rush skills.