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49ers roster, 90-in-90 breakdowns: Patrick Willis

Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today we focus on all-world linebacker Patrick Willis.


Here at Niners Nation, we're presenting a series called "90-in-90". We'll be looking at every player on the 49ers offseason roster, one player per post, from now until the start of training camp. Technically there are only 89 players currently on the roster right now, and we know it's not exactly 90 days until camp ... but "90-in-90" just sounds too cool to get caught up the in details!

Most of these 90-in-90 posts are going to break down players who either are on the roster bubble, or face particular questions heading into the 2013 season. This is not one of those posts.

Patrick Willis is coming off a season in which he continued to be as good a linebacker as there is in the game. He earned his sixth straight Pro Bowl and All Pro nods. He finished second on the roster in tackles, trailing only NaVorro Bowman sf ESPN ranks Willis tied for 21st in total tackles, but there is such inconsistent reporting in total tackles that we'll just stick with his ranking compared to Bowman. And of course, Willis was among the league leaders in preventing broken tackles.

At times there has been chatter about Bowman surpassing Willis, but in 2012, it was the all-around defensive game that keeps Willis at the top of the linebacker rankings. Although his tackle totals were down from years past, part of that had to do with his continued work in coverage. Willis and Bowman both get plenty of work covering tight ends and running backs in the passing game, but Willis has really stepped up his game. Early in his career that was one area he needed to work on, and it seems like he is making his mark in coverage.

One big plus in 2012 was avoiding any significant injuries. He missed three regular season games in 2011 and one in 2010, but was back for all 16 games.

Why he could improve in 2013

This is a tough one because Willis does so many things so well. Honestly, where do people see areas for improvement at this point? Obviously consistency remains the key. I suppose continuing to learn how the offense works, and thus being able to better anticipate things. He already does a great job at this, but I suppose there is always room for improvement.

Why he could regress in 2013

Given that he has done so well through his six-year career, it seems like it's always possible for him to take a step back. Any regression would be less about him dropping too far down the totem pole of linebackers, as it would be that he has simply set the bar so high. Again, are there areas where Willis could regress?

Odds of making the roster

Yea, um...ok. The 49ers lean heavily on Willis and Bowman at the inside linebacker positions. That will continue to be the case, but I do wonder how long that will last. The 49ers added some linebackers this offseason, but none really strike me as the type to rotate in for playing time. The team will likely be adding some rotation at outside linebacker and along the line, but Willis and Bowman seem locked in at inside linebacker without a need for relief.