Looking to bounce back from a painful loss in the Super Bowl, Patrick Willis is coming into camp hoping his team can go a step further for the third-consecutive year. San Francisco made it to the NFC title game in 2011 and made it one game further last season, but is still looking for that elusive title after coming up yards short against the Ravens.
The obstacle? No team in the Super Bowl era has won a championship after losing in the Super Bowl the previous season.
“Honestly, I feel like every year there’s something working against a team, whether you go to the playoffs or go to the Super Bowl or win it or lose it,” Willis said.
“I feel like every year you come back there’s obstacles that you face. So for us…this year is no different.”
Willis has been a Pro-Bowler in each of his six seasons with the 49ers making him a de facto leader of the team. But given his quiet, lead-by-example nature, a leadership role hasn’t been something that’s come naturally, despite being a five-time All-Pro.
In team gatherings, Jim Harbaugh will call on players to speak their mind to allow various voices to be heard adding to the group's leadership dynamic.
“One thing about this team is it’s not just on one guy’s shoulders to lead this team,” Willis said.
“Each one of us plays a part in that, just doing we have to do. So if he calls on me, I get back up and say something I have to say. Unless I feel like there’s something out of touch and something that needs to be said then I will. Other than that, I’m a teammate with the rest, so when someone gets up and talks they have my undivided attention.”
Willis noted that the feeling around the facility this season is similar to years’ passed, but the departure of veterans Delanie Walker and Dashon Goldson have been felt early on.
“They’re like brothers to me. For six years together and to not have them feels a little different. We have some great guys that we brought in that will become apart of this brotherhood we have here on this team so it feels great to be back. The vibe is good,” Willis said.
News and Notes
Corner Carlos Rogers said he asked defensive coordinator Vic Fangio for an overview of all the coverages, particularly areas where he thought he could improve.
“Our secondary was ranked No. 4 in the league last year. We were pretty good, but being ranked No. 4 you weren’t ranked No. 1,” Rogers said. “There are still some things that we can get better at.”
“Teams are gunning after us. We’re going to be gunning after teams. You look at our division, each and every team got better. New coaches. New players. Not even thinking about the Super Bowl, we have to win our division, because that’s going to be way tougher than it was last year.”
Rogers was also asked about the influx of dangerous slot receivers in the league - notably Percy Harvin with Seattle and Tavon Austin with Rams – players he will likely have to cover in four games this season.
“In the slot you’re in the middle of the field and guys have so many directions to go. It’s a hard position. So I go in each and every day, each and every week and each and every opponent and try to get better and see what I can do to gain an advantage,” Rogers said.
“You have short, quick guys. You have guys like Anquan (Boldin) that are strong. You can’t jam him because he’s going to push off and get you off him. So each and every week there’s something different and I’m just trying to get better. But I have good coaches that back me up and we work hand-in-hand and we’ve been pretty successful.”
Eventually, the 49ers will have a decision to make on Rogers’ contract. After this season, the 32-year-old is slated to make $6.25 and $7.25 million in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
“If you’re being released off your numbers then that’s something you can’t control. You play and well and my goal is to play well and play for this team. Other than that I can’t control that. I’m not trying to control that. It doesn’t worry me,” he said.
Safety Donte Whitner addressed a similar issue. The seven-year vet is a free agent after the season and faces an uncertain future with the team.
“Anybody that ever says it’s not a concern, they’re probably lying. It’s always a concern, especially when you’re in a business that’s so physical. You never know what’s going to happen on a football field,” Whitner said.
“But I’m in no position to make anybody do anything. All I can do is come out here and work hard every single day, help lead the secondary and make sure we’re one of the top defenses in the national football league and every thing will fall into place. But I try not to think about it.”
As one of the respected veterans on the defensive side, Whitner was asked if he spoke to Ahmad Brooks about his recent legal trouble after he was cited for allegedly striking teammate Lamar Divens in the head with a beer bottle. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue charges against the outside linebacker.
“I talked to Ahmad. He explained the situation, I gave my input on it. We left it at that. He’s tremendously sorry for what he did,” Whitner said.
“It’s a bad choice that he made. He’s going to have to pay for that. We don’t know what it’s going to be. But we have to understand that good choices, we’re a good football team. A lot of eyes are on us now, even more than last year or the year before. You have to make good decisions and hang out with the right people…and he’s going to do that from here on out.”