The Evolution of Patrick Willis' Game

Ezra Shaw

I after some comment about Willis' recent interview - comments that prompt a question.

What's this? Patrick Willis' game is evolving?

No, but seriously, I wasn't going to let a fairly revealing interview from Patrick Willis go by without offering some thoughts of my own. In case anybody missed it, our fearless leader Fooch had an article up the other day in which he quoted a few interview answers from Patrick Willis.

Willis talked about how he wanted to improve his game by playing smarter and not necessarily wanting to rely on his speed. Said Willis:

"I learned this camp that you don't have to move as fast if you're smarter. 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."

Here's the crazy thing, though: Willis already plays this way! I mean, yes, he is one of the fastest ILBs I've seen. His sideline to sideline speed is not only undeniable, it is also intimidating. But, Willis also has spot-on instincts. His ability to sniff out where a defender is headed makes him one of the best defenders in the league. While the speed is an important part of the game, it's most successfully utilized in combination with his instincts.

But, if P-52 thinks that he can push his game to the next level by really honing those instincts to a new level of athletic prowess as of yet unseen in his career, then one of the best defenders in the league (and yes, he deserves the redundancy) will be a bedrock of this defense for another seven years.

So that raises a good question: how long do you think Patrick Willis can play at an elite level? Given the Ray Lewis narrative this last year, I don't think it's an altogether wayward question. If Willis can keep evolving his game, and if he can continue to avoid serious injuries, how long does he have in this league?

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