To have Joe Staley compliment you for your ethic in the weight room is like da Vinci saying you can paint a little bit.
It goes along way. And it did for 49ers first-year kicker Phil Dawson.
Yes, kicker in the weight room.
"I never seen a kicker workout as hard as he does," Willis said this week. "Then you see him kick in practice, and he takes it serious. We tend to joke with the kickers sometimes because they get done so early and get to go home (from practice) early, but when you see Phil put in all the work that he does when he's here, when he leaves there's no question in my mind that he's put in a great day's work."
Dawson, 38, came to San Francisco from the Cleveland Browns, where he spent his first 14 NFL seasons. Coming off his first Pro Bowl selection, he will make his team debut on Sunday at Candlestick Park against the Green Bay Packers.
"To have somebody like him say that, it's pretty meaningful," Dawson said of Willis, the All-Pro linebacker and one of the strongest men in the NFL. "I play a position that isn't often associated with hard work, so when I got here this offseason one of my first goals was to earn the respect of my teammates and coaches, and I knew the quickest way to do that was to work hard.
"I have never been one to embrace the stereotypical kicker role. I've always wanted to be a football player who kicks rather than a kicker who plays football," added Dawson, who played other positions growing up in Greater Dallas. "There's a stereotype out there that kickers don't work hard, and some of that is well deserved. Not in all cases. It's the only way I know how to approach the game."
In special teams meetings, in the weight room, on the practice field, Dawson always tries to be "on." Every day during the offseason -- and his offseason started as early as anyone's – the right-footed specialist prided himself on completing his teammates' "identical workouts." This meant putting his lower and upper body through pain alongside his teammates, bonding and competing. (This didn't mean Dawson was lifting as much weight, as he would be the first to tell you.)
"When I came here, it was important to me to be in the middle of the guys and do everything they're doing: whether it was the lifting, the jumping, the running. I did it all with 'em," Dawson said. "I'm sure they all have had at some point in their careers a kicker who had done it differently. It's incorrect to assume that being a kicker doesn't require strength."
Dawson stresses that he's only interested in adding muscle to his 5-foot-11, 200-pound frame when it will show up on field. If the weight doesn't translate, something is wrong.
An example is in order. Across the NFL this fall, most kickers playing in open-air stadiums will have the benefit of a relatively drier field surface. This allows a kicker like Dawson at a place like The 'Stick to speed his steps to the ball while being confident that his left, plant-foot will stick in the grass.
But what happens in December, when the 49ers host the St. Louis Rams and the Seattle Seahawks the first two weeks of the month, and the grass turns dewy and slick? What happens when Dawson -- and his peer on the opposing team -- lose the energy of their stride and, as a result, can't generate enough power to execute a 55-yard field goal attempt?
"If you're a guy that can only lose momentum to develop power, you're going to be in trouble later in the year," Dawson said. "Obviously on a team that has high expectations, I'm not looking to decrease as the season moves on; I'm looking to get even better."