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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In the short amount of time Karl Paymah has been a part of the 49ers this offseason, several things have impressed the free agent cornerback.
But in particular, the 49ers secondary coaches, Johnnie Lynn and Vance Joseph have really had a positive influence on Paymah already.
“To tell you the truth I think they are the best DB coaches I’ve had since I’ve been in the NFL,” said the five-year veteran, who is with his third team. “I’ve never pounded technique as much as I do here. They’ve instilled confidence in all of us. They believe in you, they trust you and they’re going to let you play the game. It’s a good situation.”
Lynn is entering his 17th NFL season, and sixth season with the 49ers. For his entire tenure in the Bay Area, Lynn has shared the position group with Joseph, who has coached all six of his NFL seasons with the 49ers.
As a former defensive coordinator with the New York Giants, Lynn is one of the team’s most respected coaches, that’s why he’s also the team’s special assistant to the head coach. Although he’s mostly known by outsiders for his raspy voice which tends to give-way the first week of training camp, inside the building Lynn is one of the most respected coaches. The same goes for Joseph, who is not afraid to motivate players if he’s not satisfied with their effort.
Paymah showed early return on the wisdom he’s attained so far from both coaches, intercepting a pass from Alex Smith at Wednesday’s voluntary organized team activity.
“I was just out there playing,” Paymah said downplaying the turnover. “I knew the situation and I just reacted. I tried to get a good jam on (Ted Ginn Jr.) and I noticed him trying to cut back, I was surprised (Smith) threw the ball. I just tried to beat him to the ball and make a play.”
Paymah’s pretty interception on such a nice day weather-wise was fitting for the defensive back, considering how much he was looking forward to Bay Area weather when signing with the 49ers in March.
“It’s beautiful out there, sometimes I refer to it as Club Med,” Paymah said while cracking a grin. “I don’t really feel like I’m at work, except for when practice starts hurting. But really I’m just trying to have fun, play ball and not think too much. I’m just trying to make it happen.”
Likewise, rookie defensive backs are adjusting to their new surroundings. Fortunately, Lynn and Joseph have made the experience a challenging one.
Second-round pick Taylor Mays is just like Paymah, loving his new position coaches.
“They’re good coaches because they coach you, the individual player. I think that’s important. They’re coaching me up on everything I do,” the rookie safety said.
Mays knows he won’t be perfect this week, but as long as he’s giving maximum effort, the former USC standout can live with that at the end of the day.
“It’s about giving full effort. That’s all I can really do right now. I’m trying to learn as much as I can, retain as much as I can and just go from there. I’m trying to get as much work in as I can. I’m not really worried about messing up or anything. I’m trying to get as many mistakes out the way and go forward,” Mays said.
Mays said he already understands what type of effort is needed just from watching two solid safeties like Michael Lewis and Dashon Goldson.
“I know what to expect and know what the tempo should be,” Mays said. “It’s good to see guys at the highest level prepare and see what it takes to be great and successful. We have two successful safeties to watch and I couldn’t think of a better situation to be in.”
Notes and Quotes
Greg Manuksy wore a microphone for 49ers.com on Tuesday. On Wednesday, head coach Mike Singletary wore the wire and the defensive coordinator stepped up to a podium with a microphone to answer questions from the media. Many wondered about his initial impressions on the three defensive players selected by the 49ers in the 2010 Draft, but Manusky wasn’t quick to judge his new talent. “There are a lot of things thrown at them the first couple of weeks. They just got out of a scenario of a worldwide tour going to teams and stuff like that. It’s good to get them here, start sitting them down, understand the system and understand where their role is. They’ll eventually and hopefully move on and upward.”
Manusky was also questioned about his defensive philosophy of using defenders who mirror each other and Navorro Bowman’s name came up. The third-round pick out of Penn State, who played outside linebacker in a 4-3 college scheme, is now making the change to inside linebacker in a 3-4. But the change is not a problem according to Bowman who is relishing the opportunity. “I’m glad to be back inside, you get to each side faster,” Bowman noted. “Being an outside ‘backer you’re stuck to one side and you can’t really make plays on the other side of the field. I’m glad to be inside, but whatever the coaches need me to learn – I’ll do that.”
Speaking of linebackers, Takeo Spikes is a veteran in the truest sense of the word. Asked if he’s excited about the upcoming season, the 13-year veteran said he’ll curb his enthusiasm until late July. “When training camp comes around and we start playing games, I think that’s when it really gets all the way turned up.”
Mike Iupati has been off to a good start so far this week. During the team period, the rookie left guard did a nice job of pulling and kicking out the blitzing Bowman, to give running back Glen Coffee a huge running lane. “Nice job Mike!” offensive line coach Mike Solari belted out upon seeing the play develop.
Smith rebounded from the early interception and completed several passes in the 10 to 20-yard range, but none more impressive than the touch pass 25 yards or so down the middle of the field to wide receiver Dominique Zeigler, who got past the coverage of cornerback Tarell Brown and ran right under the perfectly thrown pass.
Although Patrick Willis is recovering a minor offseason knee surgery, he’s still very active at practice. Besides leading stretches with the rest of team captains, he’s been 50 yards behind the defense during team periods, mirroring the movements of both inside ‘backers. Willis might not be on the field with his teammates full-go, but he’s getting plenty of mental reps.
Tags: Alex Smith, Greg Manusky, Johnnie Lynn, Karl Paymah, Navorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Takeo Spikes, Taylor Mays, Ted Ginn Jr., Vance Joseph
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