The San Francisco 49ers have gotten training camp officially underway with the first practice, which just wrapped up 30 minutes ago. Jim Harbaugh has been chatting with the media and hopefully we'll have a transcript for that. It's worth noting that he was asked about the team's approach and he mentioned they were being patient in free agency. That seems fairly obvious at the moment. In the meantime, Patrick Willis spoke before practice and we've got a transcript posted after the jump. You can also listen to audio at 49ers.com.
Willis didn't speak much about on-the-field issues as he was asked mostly about the new players on the team and the departure of old players. In discussing the offseason, Willis spoke about how much there is to learn and the challenges of that. This follows up on Shawntae Spencer's comment about how the old and new defensive terminology was like learning English and Spanish.
While the 49ers offense was able to get ahold of playbooks in the offseason, the defense did not get ahold of playbooks. While the offense may not have been able to implement the offense during the offseason, having the playbooks was huge in terms of learning the language of the system (or numbers as the case may be). Even if it takes time to implement, getting a leg up in terms of learning terminology is a huge step forward and is one the defense does not have. It will be interesting to see how this impacts the implementation of Vic Fangio's defense and how the team comes out of the gates on September 11.
LB Patrick Willis
Press Conference - July 29, 2011
San Francisco 49ers
On seeing new faces in the locker room:
"It's kind of one of those things that, you know its part of the game. Each year there is going to be change and unfortunately, there are some guys I had the pleasure playing with that are no longer with us anymore. It's just part of the game. They will be missed, but we have to move on."
On the personal relationships he had with the former players:
"I think the guys that are no longer with us, I mean personally...my standpoint is that they were some of my close friends, my brothers. I am going to miss them dearly. At the same time, those were some guys that for the last three or four years since I've been here, or the last four years, that contributed tremendously to this team and organization. It's just one of those things that happen in this game. Free agency comes about and/or guys want to move on."
On whether he will fulfill LB Takeo Spikes' leadership role:
"I heard people talk about that, but that's something people talked about since day one, me coming in, as a first round pick and I've really just been a guy who was playing a lot. At the end of the day all I can say is that, I can only be me. I can't try and go out and be somebody that I'm not. I'll speak when I feel like it's needed. I'll be there for guys when they need it. As far as trying to pep talk here and tell guys this and tell guys that, it's just got to be one of them things I have to feel and I will just do accordingly."
On how you adjust to changes, in terms of coaching staff and the playbook:
"It's just one of those things, the last four years, I've been learning the same defense and growing within that. Now, you know, to have something different, it's like one of those things, when you're used to one thing, you know, we kind of, we like it. But at the same time, I can look at it and say it's a downer and what am I going to do, or, I can look at is as a positive note and say you know what, this is something different, it's a new challenge and let's take it on and lets see how I can handle it. I'm looking forward to everyday and every opportunity to get better. It's different, but I'm up for the challenge."
On whether the offseason was challenging, in terms of being away from the facility:
"It's one of those things, when you sit in meetings, you try, especially being one of the older guys, and a rookie comes in with something new, so being the older guy and realizing that how important it is to know, know what you're doing, it's time to perform. Really, in practice, I hate not knowing everything, just like this, but it's going to come and I have complete faith in our coaching staff and the players that we have here now. The coaches are doing a great job of teaching it to us and we just have to take it day-by-day and try to soak up as much as possible and not let, you know, frustration of having something new and not knowing right away or get to us and really, get to me."
On the most vocal player on defense since Spikes left:
"I don't know. It's one of those things that, you know, you can have somebody that can be that guy that can yell and say the right things when things need to be said. Right now, it's one of those things, like I said, I just...if I feel like it's something that needs to be said or if it's something that needs to be done, then I'll do that. But just as far as yelling or saying something just because I want people to think that I'm ‘that guy' and I'm this and that. I don't want to do that. I just want it to be natural. We'll just have to see how things come out and that's for any guysWhen something doesn't seem right, or when something should be one way and you feel like that something isn't right, I don't feel like you have to be somebody who's been playing this game for 5 years, or 10 years or 12 years, I mean, you can be you know a one-year guy, you could be a first-year guy. It's just, at the end of the day, I think it's just about how you put it out that makes all the difference."
On whether this off-season was a benefit for him and his hand to heal completely:
"Yeah, unfortunately for this off-season, the only thing that I didn't like about it was not getting to meet our new coaching staff, not getting the playbooks and stuff ahead of time or whatever to be able to go out on the field and rep the things that we need to learn that can give us a little head start at training camp. But as far as the time off, I really think, as an individual from my perspective, it was really good on my body. I really felt mentally and physically, coming in the other day, fresh again. I never stopped missing the game and not wanting to play it, but there comes a time, sometime, when you're like, your body is saying you need a rest. I think all this stuff happened at a time it did, I think it helped me personally feel a lot better."
On whether he is happy to see QB Alex Smith get another shot, in terms of a fresh start under a coach who has been an NFL quarterback:
"I've been here with Alex for the last, we're going on five years now for me and he's been here longer than I have, and the opportunities are still there for him. Right now he's our starting quarterback and he's that leader on that side of the ball and just one of our leaders in general. So to have him, I'd rather say, I guess for me, I'm not getting any younger and I guess for me it's about now. It's about now and tomorrow and not about trying to develop and become. So with the experience that he's had, I know he's had his ups and downs, but when I look at him and talk to him during the off season, he's confident and he feels good. I think, at the end of the day, you have to start with you first and it what doesn't matter what anybody else says on the outside you have to have feel comfortable yourself and have confidence in yourself and I feel like he does. I mean, it looks like he does, so we'll see."
On whether he was surprised on how rested he got during the offseason:
"It was. I mean, it's just one of those things, I've been playing regulation football since I was in the sixth grade and I played sports year round and it hasn't stopped me. From being a younger kid playing varsity to going to college then coming here playing right away and the season alone, the snaps, I played a lot. I just think, just from my body's stand point, if we would have had an off season, if we would have had to go through the things we went through normally, I would have been there front and center, ready to go and getting it done but we didn't have that. So, I'm not saying thank God for it, but at the same time too, I thank God for that because I really feel like it done my body good, but we'll see."
On whether he's doing more on labor issues, as far as player recertification:
"I would not like to comment on that."
On what advice he gives to first year players:
"Really, I don't try to go to them and just put my thoughts on them and force my knowledge that I know of this league and of this game. I just kind of let it be something that if they want to know, then I let them come to me and they ask. If I see frustration out of them in the slightest bit, I might give them words of encouragement. But I think just one of the things when you're a rookie you're going to have all kinds of questions and you're going to feel frustrated, you're trying to make your team and you're just trying to do right. I just want them to know I'm there for them if they need it an I'm just going to try to carry myself in the most positive way possible through good and the bad."