“Man, you’re having the kind of year linebackers would love to have,”
“He’s most certainly having the kind of year I would love to have,” Willis said before Wednesday’s practice. “He’s my brother. I’m always going to be his biggest fan. He’s my teammate. I’m glad to see him doing well.
“When one does well, we all do well. That’s how we think as a football team. We’re always happy for the next man’s success.”
There's been plenty for Willis to be proud of. Bowman finished the regular season with the second-most tackles (145) in the NFC, plus his five sacks, four forced fumbles, two interceptions and one touchdown.
Those stats and others like them have players, coaches and outside observers discussing Bowman as someone who should take home some hardware this offseason.
And rightly so, but ... what about Willis?
In addition to his own gaudy numbers, highlighted by 104 tackles and three sacks to go along with two forced fumbles, Willis' has played a central role in Bowman's successes. This is a fact Bowman has mentioned in his postgame press conferences, which are becoming regularly-scheduled events.
“We push each other in the sense that we hold each other accountable,” Willis said. “Knowing that when I look at him, when he looks at me, we’re ready to go, we’re ready to play, that he can count on me to do my job, and I can count on him to do his.”
The experience level of each player – Willis has played seven NFL seasons to Bowman's four – allows a certain amount of freelancing within Vic Fangio’s defense.
“Go get it, I’m going to cover you,” Willis said, offering an example of what he might say into the ear-hole of Bowman's helmet in-game.
“Sometimes he’ll tell me the same thing. We’re always communicating," Willis said. "That’s the biggest thing we have. It’s never, ‘I’m going to do this because I can make the play.’ It’s whatever the formation they give us and whatever best makes our defense better is how we work. That’d a good tandem.”
Unfortunately, there is no award for best linebacker pairing, only individual honors.
While Willis and Bowman remain focused on the ultimate team prize, a return trip to the Super Bowl, it's clear Bowman's teammates recognize his 2013 season performance.
Willis feels the same way.
“Navorro has played exceptionally well, consistently well the last few years since he became a starter," he said. "He has my vote.”