Patrick Willis Looks to Lead One of NFL’s Best Defensive Units in 2012

July 30, 2012 – 8:30 am by michael imhoff

After a wildly successful season under first year head coach Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers look to build upon the momentum with an even better 2012 season. Most of the question marks are on offense where Alex Smith has silenced some of his critics, but still needs to prove he can do it on a consistent basis. On defense, not so much. Led by Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, the 49ers defense was rock solid last year, and looks to be even better this coming season.

Willis joined KNBR in San Francisco to talk about whether he felt anxious at the outset of 49ers training camp, if the 49ers defense has a goal of being one of the best units ever, whether they’re inspired by how close they got last year, being a leader of San Francisco alongside Justin Smith, on the importance of being professional and hard working every single day as an example to the rest of the team.

Do you still feel anxious prior to the start of training camp?

“I felt a little bit yesterday.  No matter how much you trained during the offseason, there’s no substitute for actual football. You have to compete with those guys across from you and I really believe, no matter who you train with, there’s no substitution for being out there and doing the real thing.”

When asked about whether or not the 49ers defense’s goal is to be the greatest defense ever.

“We don’t sit around and try to put that pressure on ourselves. For us it’s about just going out there and being consistent. Each year is going to be different. Last year was last year and you don’t know what’s going to happen. We have to go out there and play defense. If we do what we talked about yesterday in those meetings, I think we’ll be alright.”

Whether the 49ers can draw inspiration heading into this year by how close they got to winning it all last season:

“Of course, we still take that with us. One thing Coach Fangio was talking about yesterday, tradition isn’t about having a good year one year and being bad the next. It’s about using last year as our foundation and building on it. That’s how you create traditions. That’s our mentality.”

On being one of the team’s primary leaders alongside Justin Smith:

“When you have a group of guys like we do, that go out and practice everyday like we do, you don’t have to say much. If they mess up on a play, they know and you see them talking to themselves. Some teams you can be in a situation where guys don’t know or don’t care but here, they care. It makes it a little bit easier for us. Justin and myself just go out there and try to lead by example.”

You have to have an understanding that you have to be a professional.

“Everyday you want guys to come out and be accountable but sometimes you’re going to have that off day. When that starts to happen more and you see guys that don’t care, that’s when you start to come alive a bit.”

Listen here to Willis with Murph & Mac on KNBR in San Francisco

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