Patrick Willis enjoyed the words of encouragement Larry Grant used to give him before every 49ers game.
“He would come up to me and say, ‘Pat, do your thing. Lead us, and we’re going to follow,’” Willis said.
But since Willis has been out of action the past two weeks with a hamstring injury, the roles have been reversed for the 49ers linebackers.
Now it’s Willis offering similar pre-game inspiration.
“I keep telling him, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing. I’m your biggest fan,’” Willis said.
Willis has appreciated Grant’s effort in stepping in his place. Grant has been solid in the 49ers last two contests, allowing Willis to not rush his rehab work.
“Honestly, these last couple of weeks, I’ve done everything the trainers have asked me to do. We’re just taking it one day at a time and being smart,” said the 49ers linebacker on Tuesday, a day after San Francisco improved to 11-3 on the year. “Each day my whole mindset is to get better, no setbacks. We’ve certainly done that and we’re just going to continue to work.”
Willis didn’t say when he’ll return to the 49ers, but expects to be his old self.
“When they pull the chains off,” Willis began, “I’ll come back just as strong as when I left, if not better.”
The 49ers have not skipped a beat without Willis in the lineup. Granted, they’d love to have the services of the dominant defensive performer. But Grant’s strong play has made the absence not felt as much.
“Larry has certainly stepped in and done a remarkable job,” Willis added.
That’s why Willis makes a point to share the encouragement as Grant did with him.
“For me to be doing that to him before each game, it feels good,” Willis said. “I know on any team if you want to go far you need to have depth, players that can play. You never know the situations that are going to happen. It happened to be, but fortunately we have a guy that can come in and play the way he’s been playing.”
Notes and Quotes
Aldon Smith’s 2.5-sack performance impressed his veteran teammates, Willis included. “We believe in him and when he’s out there we know he can make a play at any time,” said the 49ers defensive captain on the pass-rushing linebacker drafted No. 7 overall. “It’s our job to be his teammate and help him. He’s taking a lot of pride in wanting to get it done.”
Cornerback Carlos Rogers, who recorded his sixth interception of the year against Pittsburgh, certainly agrees with his captain. Smith’s pass-rushing prowess has only helped the 49ers secondary. “We know we don’t have long (time to cover) with all those guys up front. We know they’re going to pass rush and stop that run.”
Rogers also said Smith could follow after the likes of elite NFL pass rushers like Jared Allen and DeMarcus Ware. “He leaves everything out on the field with his play,” Rogers said of the rookie. “He passed the record of (rookie) sacks here, that’s special for a guy to come in and give that pass rush… If he can continue to do that, he can become one of the best in the league… That’s going to be big for this defense.”
In addition to a stellar defensive outing on “Monday Night Football,” head coach Jim Harbaugh went out of his way to praise the play of his offensive line, quarterback Alex Smith and punter Andy Lee during his Tuesday press conference.
Harbaugh highlighted Alex Smith’s heady play. “Alex has great understanding,” Harbaugh said. “Veteran player who understands situational football, good football.” With 16 touchdown passes against five interceptions, Harbaugh insisted Smith’s deserving of a Pro Bowl invitation. Though Harbaugh recognizes gaudy passing statistics generate most of the Pro Bowl attention, Smith’s win/loss record factor mostly into Harbaugh’s thinking. “The only statistic that matters is winning,” he said.
Harbaugh later called Justin Smith his team’s Most Valuable Player. He also said Aldon Smith had “separated himself” as a pass-rusher.
Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who left the game with an ankle injury, will try to play Saturday against the Seattle Seahawks. “We’ll see with Ted,” said Harbaugh, who mentioned Braylon Edwards should be ready to play on Christmas Eve despite being inactive against Pittsburgh. “We’ll look for a good week of practice there,” Harbaugh added.
Lastly, Harbaugh revealed his thought process in regards to the team’s long-term plans at quarterback. Asked if he thought Alex Smith would be the team’s solution, Harbaugh replied, “I do.”
Tags: Aldon Smith, Alex Smith, Carlos Rogers, Jim Harbaugh, Larry Grant, Patrick Willis
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