The 49ers threw a draft-day party at the Santa Clara Convention Center Saturday and it was hopping when Mike Nolan showed up to talk about the teamís first-round pick, linebacker Patrick Willis.
Nolan said Willis, the SECís defensive player of the year, will have an immediate impact in the teamís third-down package where heíll line up next to fellow linebacker Manny Lawson and safety Michael Lewis. Heíll also get to compete for one of the teamís starting inside linebacker jobs against incumbent Derek Smith and back-up Jeff Ulbrich.
Both Smith and Ulbrich are long-time favorites of the coaching staff but have been slowed by injuries in recent seasons. If Willis wins a starting role, he likely would join Brandon Moore, Tully Banta-Cain and Lawson in the starting lineup.
Willis played in 4-3 defense at Mississippi but on a conference call said he was eager to learn his new role.
"Iím the type of player whoís confident he can learn different defenses," he said. "Just teach me how."
At the convention center party, someone in the crowd yelled out the name of Ray Lewis, whom Nolan coached in Baltimore. Nolan said that Willis and Lewis were different physically Ė Willis is smaller and faster Ė but said he hoped he would make a similar impact.
Said Nolan: "If three years from now weíre comparing him to Ray, thatís a good thing; thatís a great thing."
-- Matt Barrows