Joe Staley couldn't wait to return to the 49ers practice field. It was never as much fun working alone in the weight room or standing off to the side, watching his teammates.
"I wanted to be there right with them," the inside linebacker said before Wednesday's session. "I wanted to sweat when they sweat. I want to be tired when they're tired. I want to be hitting when they're hitting. I want to have fun when they're having fun. I want to be down when they're not doing so well."
Willis, who started getting reps again last week but didn't play in any of the four preseason games, said he underwent surgery on his fractured right hand five weeks ago this Friday. Doctors told him it takes eight weeks for a given bone to heal fully. He is no longer wearing a cast and was sporting only gloves at Wednesday's practice.
The six-time Pro Bowler isn't yet 100 percent, but he is 100 percent set on starting against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday afternoon at Candlestick Park.
"Honestly, I really feel like if I going to be out there on the field, I can't let it affect my play," Willis said. "I don't want to cheat my teammates of anything but everything I have.
"And no excuses. If I got to make a tackle, I'll make a tackle. If I got to cover, I'll cover."
Playing with a type of cast is nothing new to Willis. Having injured bones in his right hand three times before, he said he has been testing out "contraptions" this week.
"I'm right-handed, so I tend to be more forceful with the right hand, I guess," said Willis, who was seen catching passes from defensive assistant/outside linebackers coach Peter Hansen on Wednesday afternoon. "I have rushed a million times and got it stepped on, hit, everything and something as small as what I did, it got broken."
"Small" was matching up with fullback Bruce Miller in a one-on-one blitz-pickup drill the first week of training camp. Willis wasn't sure of the severity of the injury when it happened.
"I wasn't 100 percent sure, and I didn't want to jinx myself," Willis said. "When I tried to shake it off, I used my body to absorb the pain… I knew then that it was worse than a bump."
"Hopefully, this is my one for the year."