You will never hear Patrick Willis question the importance of practice. Not in mid-June, or in any month for that matter.
The 49ers three-time Pro Bowl linebacker and unquestioned defensive leader has been eager to return to the practice fields ever since he underwent a minor knee surgery this offseason.
In recent weeks, Willis has been slowly working over 49ers head athletic trainer Jeff Ferguson for permission to practice, asking him what he’s allowed to do each and every day he’s been around 49ers headquarters. And while Ferguson has limited Willis to individual work in last week’s organized team activities, this week was a different story.
Willis’ self-described gnat-like behavior must have paid off as Ferguson gave him the clearance to join 11-on-11 periods during Monday’s OTA session.
The wait was difficult for Willis, but he understood Ferguson’s reasoning and respected it.
“He’s one of the best trainers in the league and with my injuries before he’s done a great job of getting me ready, preparing me,” Willis said while standing in front of his locker. “I was just going to listen to him and let him tell me what to do, but at the same time, I had to bug him a little bit to let me get back out there. He gave me the ‘OK’ to participate in some of the drills and it felt good to get my feet wet and get back on the field with the boys.”
The feeling was beyond mutual.
Once Willis stepped into the huddle, outside linebacker Parys Haralson remarked, “The X-Factor is back!” Others chimed in, “Welcome back 52!”
Willis wasted no time validating the opinions of his teammates. He instantly got involved in the action by perfectly timing a delayed blitz for a would-be sack of quarterback Alex Smith.
Several plays later, he read an inside handoff to running back Glen Coffee and was in perfect position to make a play on the second-year back.
Not bad, considering Willis told reporters how he felt slower with his eyes than his feet after Monday’s practice.
With Willis back in the fold for the remainder of the offseason, the leader of the defense only sees a better performance for the entire unit in 2010.
“I think our defense can be exceptionally good. It’s going to take a lot of hard work. It’s going to take guys continuing to grow and be hungry and want to be stronger than we were before. We want to be No. 1, but if we can get in the top-3, I feel like that’s putting us in a great spot as an overall defense.”
Notes and Quotes
With Willis amongst his teammates for team periods, safety Taylor Mays took the opportunity to stand beside head coach Mike Singletary and secondary coach Johnnie Lynn deep in the 49ers defensive backfield. That location, some 40 yards behind the play, was Willis’ destination for most of the offseason. But on Monday, Mays took mental reps and asked questions in between the plays he participated in during the team period.
The first and only turnover of the day took place in the first team period, when safety Michael Lewis intercepted Smith’s pass intended for tight end Joe Jon Finley. The deep crossing route was first deflected high in the air by cornerback Kary Paymah, which allowed Lewis time to catch the ball and run it down the right sideline for a nice return.
The best offensive play took place later in practice as third-string signal caller Nate Davis found rookie wide receiver Kyle Williams 35 yards down the field on a go route over the coverage of undrafted cornerback Tramaine Brock.
Tags: Alex Smith, Karl Paymah, Kyle Williams, Michael Lewis, Nate Davis, Parys Haralson, Patrick Willis, Taylor Mays, Tramaine Brock
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