Willis and the 49ers will experience 16 challenging games beginning with the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park on Sept. 8. But before the 49ers and Packers can square off in a NFC Divisional Playoff rematch, the focus for Willis will be on improving each day of camp.
Yes, even a six-time Pro Bowl linebacker like Willis can find ways to grow as a player in the dog days of summer.
For one, Willis looks forward to competing against San Francisco’s first-team offense led by third-year quarterback
“It’s always about competing," Willis said on Wednesday, the veteran report day at 49ers camp. "I look forward to any challenge. To me, if you’re not focused, anything can happen to you. So, we’re going to see.”
Battles between the first-team offense and defense are a staple of training camp. They’ll also help set the tone for the tough games down the road on San Francisco’s regular season schedule.
[ PHOTOS - 49ERS REPORT FOR TRAINING CAMP ]
Willis couldn’t help but take a peek at the schedule when it came out in April. He admitted to not being a “fan” of looking ahead, but felt like it would be a challenging schedule of games after the team reached the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl last season.
“I’m the kind of guy where every game is important to me,” Willis explained. “Whoever we play that Sunday, I want to win. I never really go and check out the schedule but when the schedule was released, I was looking at the games like, ‘Wow, this is one heck of a schedule.’
“I guess when you make it to the Super Bowl, win or lose, that next year’s schedule is no joke.”
That’s the case for the 49ers who will face six playoff teams from the 2012 season, plus compete in five primetime games and visit London’s Wembley Stadium to face the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 27.
“I feel like every game is tough, I feel like every game is any given Sunday. If you don’t come to play, you can get beat. I don’t get caught up in, ‘we play this team, this team. This team is tougher than this team.’
“Regardless of if the team we’re playing has a losing record or a winning record, I just want to win. “
With that in mind, the first day of camp for the veterans had a sense of purpose. According to Willis, everyone passed the morning conditioning test, a good sign of the focus the team had while preparing for a NFC title defense.
Willis stressed the importance of coming to camp ready to work after a post-minicamp speech to the team.
[ PHOTOS - 49ERS CAMP PREVIEW: LINEBACKERS ]
Coach Jim Harbaugh asked the star linebacker to address the team and Willis had no problem speaking his mind.
“I just talk when something’s in my heart,” Willis shared before explaining the gist of his words to the team. “It was stay focused. We had a very good OTAs and a very good minicamp. It was just stay focused and come back ready to work. Come back hungry.”
Willis and 89 other teammates have returned to the facility eager to work.
“At the end of the day, we have to come in and work,” Willis said. “We’ll see what it is at the end of the season.”