Patrick Willis’ star is rising over the Bay

By Marc Hudgens  |   Sunday, September 16, 2007  |  Comments( 13 )

San Francisco 49ers
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San Francisco's very first pick of the 2007 NFL draft this past April was a 6-foot-1, 242-pound linebacker out of SEC doormat Ole Miss -- and the dividends are paying off.

Head coach Mike Nolan and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky must already be beaming with pride as their rookie linebacker Patrick Willis has already racked up a total of 19 tackles (14 of which are solos) in the first two regular-season games. Both contests were defensive struggles for San Francisco. Furthermore, Willis led the team in tackles over the two games, Arizona last week and St. Louis this past Sunday. At this rate, Willis might get between 150 and 160 tackles by season's end.

The Bruceton, Tenn., native beat out veterans Jeff Ulbrich, Hannibal Navies and Brandon Moore for the starting position. What's particularly interesting is Moore, a five-year vet out of Oklahoma, led the club in tackles last season with 114, added 6.5 sacks and was voted NFC Defensive Player of the Week after the Niners' win over Minnesota. For the rookie Willis to handily step over his colleagues is a testament to his abilities.

At the time of the draft, certainly Nolan & Co. knew they drafted a strong linebacker when they picked the 2006 Butkus Award winner, but surely they had no idea he would be this excellent right out of the gate.

What helps Willis is that he's surrounded by a solid linebacking corps with notable experience. Manny Lawson is a two-year vet, while Derek Smith is seemingly a lifer with 11 seasons, and Tully Banta-Cain, who came from New England, is in Year 5. So the rookie is surrounded by old-schoolers and experienced youngsters alike, all of whom give Willis a well-rounded NFL education.

Thus far into the season, the 49ers' most reliable unit -- between offense, defense and special teams -- is clearly the 'D.' The offense can't seem to get started, so the defense has been and will continue to be called upon to win games with the way things look now. And Willis has shown he's an integral part of the 49ers' defensive success and therefore the team's overall success.

At 2-0, with close wins over division rivals Arizona and St. Louis, the 49ers have been a tad shaky. Willis, however, has been 100 percent solid.

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About Marc Hudgens

Marc Hudgens has been with RealFootball365 since 2007, covering college football, specifically Clemson and Oregon. He also writes for covering the ACC. He enjoys the acidic wit of Hunter S. Thompson, is a freelance graphic designer and has written several screenplays. He...
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02:06 AM
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when are we going to see lelie or hill. battle & jackson are excellent possesion receivers, but it would be nice to see a flyer...
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Would be nice if day after the game Real Football would comment on the game as most readers would like to comment themselves and...
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