49ers' Willis knows 'jack' ... and he's learning 'mike,' too

49ers' Willis knows 'jack' ... and he's learning 'mike,' too
June 18, 2014, 1:30 pm
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Patrick Willis is expected to take NaVorro Bowman's position while he recovers from a torn ACL. (USATSI)

Editor's note: Matt Maiocco is in Santa Clara Tuesday through Thursday for the 49ers’ three-day minicamp. Stay logged on to CSNBayArea.com and tune in nightly to SportsNet Central and Yahoo SportsTalk Live for comprehensive coverage.

SANTA CLARA -- Linebacker NaVorro Bowman is expected to miss at least the first six weeks of the regular season, but the 49ers have a pretty good player waiting to take over his position.

Patrick Willis has been reacquainting himself with the “mike” linebacker position -- the spot Bowman has played the past three seasons while leading the 49ers in tackles in two of those years.

The “mike” occupies the inside linebacker position on the tight end side. Willis played four seasons at the “mike” under former defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. In Vic Fangio’s defense, Willis moved to the “jack.”

“You tend to be a little more involved in the mix,” Willis said of the “mike” position, referring to the tendency of offenses to run more to the strength of their formation.

Bowman, who sustained a torn ACL in the NFC Championship game, is rehabilitating daily at the 49ers’ practice facility. He is expected to open the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, which would make him ineligible for the first six weeks of the regular season.

“Since NaVorro is going to be down for a little bit, there’s a possibility I could be moving and playing that position, if not permanently, playing it until he gets back,” Willis said recently.

Michael Wilhoite played the “jack” position for two games last season while Willis was out with a groin strain. Wilhoite and Chris Borland are competing for that job while Bowman is sidelined.

“There are not a lot of differences, as far as physically,” Fangio said. “To me, if you’re an inside linebacker, you’re an inside linebacker. Doesn’t matter if you’re the mike or the jack.

“Where the differences come in, is there are different assignments. And if you’re playing one, you focus on those assignments.”

Typically, the jack position leaves the field when the 49ers go with six defensive backs in their dime package.


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