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October 13, 2010
Singletary: Opponents zeroing in on Willis

In most NFL cities, a linebacker with 41 tackles after five games is thought to be playing really well. When Patrick Willis has 41 tackles - tying him for 16th in the league - you wonder what is wrong.

Asked that question today, Mike Singletary said it was a little of everything. For one, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, who is Willis' de facto protection, is still trying to work off some rust. "Sometimes when a guy doesn't go through training camp, it shows," Singletary said.

Also, even Willis sometimes has taken poor angles to the ball carrier, as was the case in Week 3 in Kansas City and in Sunday's game against the Eagles. "In the game that we played (Sunday), there were a couple of bad reads in the game which allowed them to have a couple of good runs," Singletary said. "It had very little to do with Aubrayo."

But mostly, Singletary said, offenses have been targeting Willis in their game plans like never before. "Teams have made a decision that we have to, if we're going to run the ball, we have to get a hat on 52," he said. "I think teams are concentrating on doing whatever they can with whom they can - whether it's the fullback or the tight end or the tackle or the receiver - to that side of the ball. 'We must figure out a way to get to Patrick Willis.'"

In previous seasons, Willis has routinely been the team's leading tackler from game to game, and outings in which he's had 10 or more tackles were common. This year, Willis has led the team in tackles only twice - the first two games - and he has just one game in double digits. He had 10 tackles in the opener against Seattle. Overall, Willis leads the team in tackles. Safety Dashon Goldson is second with 32.

Willis was not available in the locker room today. Singletary likened the situation to a basketball player who is double-teamed. "That means that if Patrick -- if two or three guys are on him -- someone else should be open," he said. "And it's as simple as that." He also challenged Willis: "It's one of the things that I tell the guys all the time -- the better you get, the better you must become."

Niners' top two tacklers:

@ Seattle
Willis 10
Goldson 6

New Orleans
Willis 8
J. Smith 5

@ Kansas City
Clements 9
Willis 8

@ Atlanta
Mays 11
Goldson 8

Spikes 8
Willis 6

It doesn't sound as if there will be any changes on the offensive line this week, despite the fact that Eric Heitmann is now ready to play. Asked about Chilo Rachal today, Singletary said: "In talking to our staff and talking to coach Solari, Chilo just has to be consistent with his technique, particularly when he pulls down the line. I think that is the biggest factor that he needs to do. He's done it before, he did it the week of Atlanta. And I just think he needs to go forward and do that."

Asked who the best offensive lineman has been through Week 5, Singletary said, Joe Staley.

Receiver Kyle Williams has a small bandage on his right middle finger and said he'd be able to handle punts this week. He missed most of last week's practices after dislocating the finger in Wednesday's session.

-- 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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