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Patrick Willis: Chemistry Key to Defensive Success

Posted Aug 26, 2014

The San Francisco 49ers veteran linebacker is confident the defense will develop a strong rapport as new faces mix into the lineup.

Patrick Willis is a firm believer in the “next man up” mentality. But the San Francisco 49ers linebacker also understands the important role chemistry plays outside the vacuum that is team practices.

So as the defense prepares for its final regular-season rehearsal on Thursday in Houston, how does the stalwart deem his unit’s readiness?

“I feel real comfortable where we are with our defense, what we’re capable of doing,” Willis said. “We just have to understand that we have to continue to grind together and understand each other. We lost some guys from last year that had been together for a while, so it’s just about bringing that nucleus back.”

A good time to work out the kinks is in the preseason, when hiccups are expected to happen. Willis, along with fellow veterans Ray McDonald, Justin Smith, Ian Williams and Tramaine Brock, saw their first exhibition action on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers after sitting out the team’s first two preseason contests.

Willis, who made three tackles, was pleased with how some of the new faces mixed into the lineup, especially in terms of his fellow linebackers. Aaron Lynch accounted for a sack and two pass breakups, Chris Borland recorded a team-high seven tackles and Michael Wilhoite assisted Willis on a fourth-down stop of the Chargers in 49ers territory.

“It was great,” Willis said. “I can count on Mike, I have complete faith in him. And when Chris gets out there, I know that each week he is going to be prepared. He works hard and I know he’s going to be ready along with anyone else who comes in.”

That “anyone else” list includes several other players vying for snaps amid the early-season absences of NaVorro Bowman and, presumably, Aldon Smith. Willis complimented Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier as 49ers poised to rise to the occasion at right outside linebacker, while Wilhoite and Borland continue their battle at inside linebacker.

“There’s big shoes to fill, but that’s why we have to play team defense,” Willis said. “When one guy goes down, another one has to step up. That’s what this team is about, that’s what we’re about, just stepping in when we need to and making the most of it.

“Of course Bow will be missed, but he’ll be back when the time is right…(And) we went through it last year, we lost Aldon for a few games and guys stepped up big time for us. It’s going to have to be like that again.”

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