Patrick Willis and John Taylor will soon be members of the Eddie J. DeBartolo Hall of Fame. Both players spoke to the media on Thursday, and both were quite entertaining.
Taylor relieved some of his memories from the 80s while sharing stories like his favorite memories during his career, Bill Walsh, and how much the game has changed.
Willis, a soon-to-be NFL Hall of Famer, was asked his opinion about how the current 49ers linebackers, Fred Warner and Drew Greenlaw, specifically. Here’s what Willis had to say:
“Those guys have been playing unbelievable football. They’ve worked really well together,” Willis said. “Fred’s done a great job leading the linebacker corps, and for me, I’m really exicted to see that. I’m always happy for the next man’s success.
I’m a firm believer that the defense runs the show. I know the offense is pretty and everything. But when you have a defense that is dominant … I had to go through growing pains the first four years (2007-10). The last four years, it was amazing to play with a defense that, across the board, from the D-line to linebackers to DBs — that was amazing. To see the team in 2019, that defense was on point.”
That unit we saw in ‘19 will be tough to top, and I’m not just talking about in the 49ers locker room. We may not see another defense dominate in a similar fashion for a few years.
Willis was impressed with how well last year’s defense played, despite missing multiple starters in multiple games. He’s also excited to see how the defense looks under new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who won the Defensive Rookie of the Year a year before Willis:
“I was a big fan of what he was doing in Houston. He always reminded me from afar as a guy who’d be an amazing coach the way he commanded the field and his teammates. Those guys are really going to buy into what he has. He’ll bring a little of his own touch, which I’m excited to see.”
As much as we talk about whether Ryans will be more aggressive as a blitzer or the style of coverages he’ll use, Willis’s point is far more important to the team’s success: Will players buy-in?
If so, the defense shouldn’t have much, if any, drop-off. As a former middle linebacker who relayed the plays to the rest of the defense, the moment shouldn’t be too big for Ryans.
Willis was great. He spoke about his health and how the bunion on his big toe was “almost equivalent to an ACL.” That’s something I hadn’t thought of, but he talked about how much pain the injury caused, especially during the early part of 2015.
Willis also spoke about how honored he was to join the 49ers Hall of Fame at the same time as Taylor, as well as athletes speaking up about social justice:
“I’m a firm believer it’s said we have freedom of speech here. With that being said, everyone has an opinion to have an opinion. I’ve learned to be more silent than outspoken unless there’s something deep down inside me that has to come out. When I do speak of something, I have to have knowledge of it and do research. There’s a lot going on in the world and a lot of noise. I try not to get too caught up in it. I have my own personal opinions and make them be heard if someone asked. To each his own.”
Hopefully, the next time we’re talking about Willis is when he’s inducted into Canton.