Aaron Rodgers showed the San Francisco 49ers ultimate admiration while conducting an interview with a Bay Area radio station this week.
The Green Bay Packers quarterback listed every starter on San Francisco's defense by name and praised the unit for its tough play in 2011.
On Wednesday, the NFL's reigning MVP took it a step further, making it abundantly clear how much he respects his team's Week 1 opponent this Sunday at Lambeau Field.
"They've got the best players," Rodgers said when asked in a conference call what makes the 49ers defense so talented. "I think from front-seven to the back end they are solid. There are not any weaknesses out there. They have a lot of Pro Bowl players and a lot of guys who could be Pro Bowl players. Big names and guys who don't get the respect they probably deserve yet, but will."
The 49ers share a mutual feeling towards the quarterback they'll face Sunday on the road, the same one who broke the NFL's single-season quarterback rating in 2011 with a 122.5 passer rating.
"He's a Super-Bowl winning quarterback and that's the ultimate goal," 49ers five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Joe Staley said before noting Rodgers' MVP-winning season in 2011. "You can't erase those facts."
Willis said Rodgers is tough to defend mostly because, "He knows what he's looking for." And, because Rodgers is, "very accurate and he has a strong arm."
San Francisco's defensive captain is eager to get his sixth NFL season underway and sees the challenge of facing last season's third-best passing attack (4,924 yards) as the perfect way to kick-off a 2012 season filled with expectations for both clubs coming off playoff appearances.
"Just like we expected last year to come out every game and compete, we're expecting to do the same thing this year," said Willis, one of two 49ers defensive captains this season along with fellow All-Pro, Justin Smith.
"I don't see why we can't. Who knows if we'll go 13-3 like we did last year, but we'll most certainly go out and compete each game, take each game one at a time."
The 49ers will face a Packers team with some of the best passing personnel in the league this Sunday. However, the unit feels like the training camp battles with a re-loaded 49ers offense have served them well for a 2012 regular season schedule complete with each of the league's top-five passing quarterbacks from a season ago.
"It's an amazing challenge," Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers said of facing Rodgers and Green Bay right off the bat. "Every single snap's a challenge for the whole team."
Rogers, the team's slot cornerback against multiple-receiver sets, is eager to face Green Bay's talented wideouts, but isn't so sure who he'll face on each play. Rogers sees the Packers moving their targets all over the field, much like the 49ers have done this offseason with their own perimeter players.
The opponent might be multiple in how it lines up in passing formations, but Rogers envisions Pro Bowl wideout Greg Jennings maintaining his status as Green Bay's top wideout.
"He's got a quarterback who's going to give him a lot of chances," Rogers said of Jennings, who has three touchdown catches in his previous two meetings against San Francisco. "If he's one-on-one, he's going to put the ball up where his receiver can make a play.
"He's quick. He's fast. He's got a very high I.Q. of the offense and understands defenses. If you have a wide receiver who understands pre-snap what he's about to get from a defense by the look… he knows what his route's going to be."
Much has changed for the 49ers defense since the teams last faced each other in 2010. The ironic thing about the changes for the 49ers defense is that it somewhat mirrors what Green Bay does on that side of the ball.
San Francisco's second-year coordinator Vic Fangio worked twice for Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers during his two stints as a head coach for the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans, respectively.
So while the 49ers have improved on defense (No. 1 against the run, No. 2 in points allowed last season) the group utilizes many principles of a Capers-coached defense.
It's not known if, or how much at all, the 49ers will changes things up scheme-wise on defense. But if Willis has to play more in coverage like he did in 2011, San Francisco's perennial All-Pro defender is certainly up for it.
"When my job is called to cover I want to do well at it," explained Willis, who worked on his coverage skills this offseason against the likes of Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, two of the league's most dynamic athletes at the position.
"When I have the opportunity to cover those guys, I try to do the best I can and be good at it," Willis added. "That's one of the things I'm most certainly taking pride in, being able to do that. It's work. It's not easy at all."
Green Bay's top tight end, Jermichael Finley has also earned Willis' respect. The 6-foot-5, 247-pound target hauled in 55 passes for 767 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last season.
"It's going to be a test, but I'm looking forward to the challenge," Willis said of potentially covering Finley.
Willis also conceded there are nerves that come with any NFL game, let alone a season opener.
Still, the natural feelings that come with wanting to perform won't detract Willis from accomplishing his biggest goal for Sunday.
"We have to make more plays than them at the end of the day. I know we have the defense to go out and compete against that offense. That's what's going to make it fun."