“In the days after Willis announced his retirement on March 10, 2015, he disconnected from football entirely. He had no desire to get into coaching. Games held such little appeal Willis moved off the grid and didn’t get cable television. He went three or four years without so much as watching a televised game.
Willis didn’t hate football by any means. In fact, he missed things like his teammates, the competition, even the cold tubs and massages. He just knew for him to move on, he needed to remove himself from it entirely.
“I understood that this game right here is like a drug and people take drug like a derogatory term but no, it just depends on how it gets you,” Willis said. “It was like something I realized, it’s like doing a diet. You’ve got to weigh yourself, some people go cold turkey. I was like I can’t be bulls---ing with this because this thing could seriously have me messing around and in limbo like should I go back?”
“Anyone beyond Warner and Greenlaw are question marks in terms of their role and whether they’ll make the club. Burks is a good special teams player, which will all but assuredly keep him on the roster. He’s a good athlete though and hasn’t gotten many chances to be a starting LB since the Packers selected him in the third round of the 2018 draft. He has just 10 starts on defense in his career and he’s never played more than 19 percent of his team’s defensive snaps in a season. He’ll be in the mix for the starting Sam job where he’d have his biggest defensive role ever as a pro.”
“So Smith and head coach Mike Nolan hopped on a helicopter that took them over the city of San Francisco, Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge and then back down the majestic California coastline toward the South Bay. It was fun, Smith said later, but that wasn’t what sold him on the 49ers. Instead, it was a dinner he had with the team’s defensive coordinator at the time, Greg Manusky. The two drank cheap beer until early in the morning, trading hunting and drinking stories and going over how Manusky planned to utilize the defensive end in his system.
It was near dawn by the time they were through. A slightly tipsy Manusky called general manager Scot McCloughan and bragged about the free agent he had just bagged.
“We got him!” Manusky happily exclaimed.
Smith liked the 49ers’ plan for him. When he began his career with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2001, he was a 265-pound defensive end who played on the outside of the defensive line on all three downs. The 49ers were eyeing him as a defensive end on running downs and as someone who could play inside — and use his strength and quickness against guards — on passing downs.
Smith, who would eventually bulk up to 295 pounds, thought that was a good idea. He also liked the collaboration he had with defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who gave him and his defensive linemates a degree of autonomy he hadn’t had to that point in his career. Instead of being locked into a particular formation that hinged on the offense’s personnel, Tomsula — and later defensive coordinator Vic Fangio — gave Smith wiggle room based on what he was seeing and hearing on the field. After all, he was only inches away from his opponents. The coaches were all the way on the sideline, and Fangio was up in the coaches’ booth.
“You can really hear what’s going on in the inside,” Smith said. “The center is making the calls. You see where they’re sliding and you see how you can beat a protection. The coaches can’t hear that. And you know, they were kind of leery at first. They were, ‘How the hell do you know?’ Well, because they’re telling us. We can hear it. Then (the coaches) finally started listening to us. Jimmy T was awesome as far as taking some input and listening to us. … Vic, Jimmy T, all those guys, they were just awesome in giving us some input. And that was the first time in my career I’d ever had that.”
“At minimum to get MVP consideration in 2023 he’ll need a statistical output at or north of his 2019 season where he goes for 1,000 yards rushing and receiving while posting 20-plus total TDs for a very good team in the NFC....Because MVPs can be so narrative-based, McCaffrey doing that on an offense that produces despite significant question marks under center would provide him a shine that no other RB has gotten the benefit of in the current MVP voting climate.”
“[McCaffrey’s] always looking for that edge. He’s always looking for, ‘What can I do to be just a little bit better?’ And he got here and didn’t realize that he’d never really been coached as much in how to run the ball as Kyle coached him,” Foerster said Thursday during the 49ers 2023 State of the Franchise event. “He accepted that coaching and got better as the year went on, and he brings everybody else up.
“We have this saying — Kyle came up with it in Washington — a guy that always seems to find the right hole, we ended up nicknaming this guy ‘Drano’ because he always finds the drain, you know? Christian does it, but he does it with elite athleticism, elite speed and everything else — toughness, physicality ... He always finds it, and he does it with a shiftiness and elusiveness.”