Willis redefining 'complete linebacker'

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Willis redefining 'complete linebacker'

Patrick Willis introduction to the NFL came against Arizona on a Monday night in 2007. The eleventh overall pick in that years draft instantly lit up the league with 15 tackles and a strip of Edgerrin James. Willis set his career mark of 15 solo tackles in another game against Arizona in November of that same season. But playing the team against which he has had so much success holds no special status for the veteran linebacker.

To me, its about going out there each Sunday and proving why I love to play the game, Willis said. And thats what this Sunday is about, to go out there and play good defense individually and also as a team.

Willis faces the 3-6 Cardinals this Sunday with a few wrinkles added to the Pro Bowl skills hes possessed throughout his first four years in the league. From the onset of training camp, the 49ers new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio set out to improve Willis presence in pass coverage, specifically, in pressuring the quarterback.

Hes done better lately in rushing the passer when we blitz him, Fangio said. He got the sack last game and hes applied some pressure here of late, and he has been improving. And thats a credit to Pat, that hes able to improve during the season when you dont do a lot of pass-rush drill work, particularly in the way he blitzes and stuff. So, Ive been pleased.
Fangios schemes also drop Willis into coverage more, often pitting his strengths of speed and range against the leagues bigger tight ends.

This is the first year Ive had to cover as much as I have, Willis said. One of the things that Ive taken pride in, and to me, its a challenge. Im always looking for a challenge. Thats what keeps the game fun. To be able to go out there and cover in open field or just cover period, its big. Not a lot of guys like to do it, want to do it and can do it. For me, its something that Ive taken pride in this year, and I just want to be the best I can be at it.

The Lions Brandon Pettigrew (65), Washingtons Fred Davis (64) and the Giants Jake Ballard (66) have all experienced Willis best this season. Pettigrew is the only tight end who has had success against Willis, but he had to hold on to Willis entire right arm as well as the ball all the way to the ground for his touchdown. More often, the only thing Willis opponents come down with is frustration as Davis did during the Washington game -- leading to a colorful exchange between the two.

Fred Davis is one of the better tight ends in this league, and of course, going against a guy like that, hes very confident in himself and Im confident in myself, Willis said. When you have those two type of mentalities its going to be a fight.

Davis didnt have a reception until the fourth quarter and ended the game with four catches for 42 yards. Willis had 13 combined tackles and two forced fumbles.

Even with increased responsibilities, Willis 78 tackles are only slightly lower than his numbers through nine games in previous seasons, and he still ranks in the leagues top ten at that.
Hes the five-tool linebacker. Plays downhill, I think, better than any linebacker in football, but he can also cover in pass protection. Weve seen evidence of that over and over, said head coach Jim Harbaugh. He can run sideline to sideline. He can run plays down for the backside. Hes got the speed to shoot a gap and make a play from behind and you see that many times. You see that many times when hes fully laid out making the late tackle on a quarterback or from behind on a back. Excellent blitzer.

My whole thing is when my numbers called make it count, Wills said, and do what Im asked to do and work every day to be a complete linebacker.

Willis just may be redefining what a complete linebacker means.

49ers 2017 UDFA tracker: Southern Miss QB reportedly agrees to terms

49ers 2017 UDFA tracker: Southern Miss QB reportedly agrees to terms

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers are reportedly adding a fourth quarterback to their 90-man roster.

Nick Mullens a four-year starter at Southern Mississippi, agreed to terms with the 49ers after the conclusion of the Saturday’s NFL draft, he told the Hattiesburg American.

As a senior, Mullens completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 3,272 yards with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Mullens joins a quarterback group that includes starter Brian Hoyer, backup Matt Barkley and third-round draft pick C.J. Beathard.

Other reported 49ers free-agent agreements include:

--RB Matt Breida, Georgia Southern: In three seasons at Georgia Southern, Breida rushed for 3,740 yards and 37 touchdowns while averaging 6.9 yards a carry. (Tampa Bay Times)

--OL Erik Magnuson, Michigan: Magnuson (6-6, 305) was a first-team All-Big Ten performer who started every game at right tackle. He announced on Twitter that he has agreed to terms with the 49ers.

--WR Kendrick Bourne, Eastern Washington: He caught 211 passes for 3,130 yards and 27 touchdowns in his four-year career. Bourne (6-1, 203) had his best season as a senior, with 79 receptions for 1,201 yards and seven touchdowns. Eastern Washington announced Bourne’s three-year contract.

--OT Darrell Williams Jr., Western Kentucky: Williams (6-5, 315) started 41 games. He played his final two seasons at right tackle after moving from right guard. Western Kentucky announced the contract agreement with the 49ers.

--WR KD Cannon, Baylor: Cannon caught 195 passes for 3,113 and 27 touchdowns in his three-year career. He turned pro after a junior season in which he caught 87 passes for 1,215 yards and 13 touchdowns. He announced his contract agreement with the 49ers via Twitter.

--DB Lorenzo Jerome, Saint Francis (PA): Jerome, a Senior Bowl invite, was named first-team FCS All-American. He intercepted six passes in 2016 with 59 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 11 pass break-ups. He added a touchdown on a kickoff return. (Pittsburgh Post Gazette)

--LB Jimmie Gilbert, Colorado (Denver Post)

--OL J.P. Flynn, Montana (NEPatriotsdraft.com)

--DE Noble Nwachukwu, West Virginia (NEPatriotsdraft.com)

--TE Cole Hikutini, Louisville (NFL Network)

--LB Donavin Newsom, Missouri (Columbia Daily Tribune)

--WR Victor Bolden, Oregon State (Bolden via Twitter)

Lynch: TE McDonald to return to 49ers after being on trade block

Lynch: TE McDonald to return to 49ers after being on trade block

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers explored trade options for veteran tight end Vance McDonald during the three-day draft, but he is scheduled be back with the team when the club reports Monday for the fourth week of the offseason program.

“I think that’s the reality of new regimes coming, new schemes,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Saturday at the conclusion the seven-round draft. “That’s not to say that he can’t fit into our scheme. Frankly, we received some interest from some other people, then we did explore some options throughout the league with Vance. Nothing ended up happening, so Vance will come back and have an opportunity to compete.”

Coach Kyle Shanahan said he called McDonald on Friday night to keep him updated on the team’s though process in pursuing trade options. McDonald was at his brother’s wedding, Shanahan said, so he left him a long voice message. McDonald responded Saturday morning with a text. Shanahan said the two men will speak on Monday in Santa Clara.

“We did take over a 2-14 team,” Shanahan said. “We don’t feel all the answers are here right now. We have a lot of work to do. We need to improve in any way possible. And we’re going to do that. We’re going to do that from an organizational standpoint. How can we improve the building? How can we improve the coaching staff? How can we improve the personnel department? How can we improve the players?

“Just from Vance’s text back, I think people understand that. I think it does make sense. I don’t think that’s something personal.”

Former 49ers general manager Trent Baalke signed off on a five-year contract extension for McDonald in December that consisted of a $7 million signing bonus. McDonald appeared in 11 games last season, catching 24 passes for 391 yards and four touchdowns. The 49ers acquired McDonald as a second-round draft pick 2013. In 48 career games, McDonald has 64 receptions for 866 yards and seven touchdowns.

The 49ers signed veteran tight end Logan Paulsen in the offseason. On Saturday, the 49ers selected Iowa tight end George Kittle in the fifth round of the draft. Kittle joins fellow tight ends McDonald, Garrett Celek, Paulsen, Blake Bell and Je’Ron Hamm on the 49ers’ 90-man roster.