49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

April 28, 2007
Niners take Ole Miss' Willis

The 49ers chose Mississippi linebacker Patrick Willis with the 11th pick in the draft.

The coaching staff was taken with Willis during the week of Senior Bowl practices in January. The speedy linebacker had more than 128 tackles in each of the last two seasons at Ole Miss and the team believes he will immediately upgrade the San Francisco linebacking corps.

Willis – who appropriately wore No. 49 for the Rebels -- likely would play the so-called “Mike” or left inside linebacker spot, a position veteran Jeff Ulbrich plays.

I’m heading over to the Santa Clara convention center to hear Mike Nolan talk about the pick. I’ll report back on what he says – and the team’s strategy from this point on – when I get back.

In the meantime, here are a few questions Willis answered in February at the scouting combine:

Q: People say you’re a two-down linebacker. Is that true?
A: I guess I’ll just let the facts speak for themselves. The last two years, injured or not injured, I’ve been out there every down. This season, I didn’t come off for one snap. For the most part I’m good enough at my pass defense.

Q: Are you an outside linebacker?
A: The first two years in college I played outside linebacker, covered some slot receivers. I’d say I’m confident in my abilities, but anything I need to do I’ll work on and do my best to get the job done.

Q: What was the Senior Bowl like?
A: I took the whole NFL perspective. Every day you’ve got to come out and work and do your best. Being coached by Mike Singletary was a little like coach O, you’re being coached by someone who tells you to be perfect at what you do.

Q: What is your family situation?
A: I have guardians. They didn’t adopt us, but they kind of took us in for five years. Because of some complications with my dad, my mom wasn’t around.

Q: Nothing come easy for you. Is it gratifying to get to this point?
A: All my life I’ve brought the attitude, to work and improve myself.
So stepping up to this level, I’m going to have to do the same thing, regardless of what background I came from or what division I played at. Once you’re in the NFL, everybody’s got something to prove. It doesn’t matter where you come from, as long as you show up when it’s time.

Q: How do you assess your leadership skills?
A: I think my last two years I became more of a vocal leader. My first two years in college, I probably was trying to lead by example. Part of that was having great guys ahead of me like Eli (Manning) and some of the other guys. You had to show them you were ready to be on their side. I feel like I’m capable of being more vocal, but also leading by example at the next level.
-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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