Willis expects 49ers defense to be no worse than No. 10

Linebacker Patrick Willis said there is no doubt in his mind the 49ers will rank in the top 10 of defenses in the NFL this season.

“Not only top 10, top five – if not No. 1,” he said.


He said he bases that on how hard the team has worked throughout this offseason. He said if the team continues to work this hard, he expects a dramatic improvement from a year ago when the 49ers ranked No. 13 overall.


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The 49ers have not approached Willis about a contract extension, he said. However, the 49ers did reach a new deal with long-snappper Brian Jennings, whose deal was set to expire after the upcoming season.


Jennings, who was selected to the Pro Bowl after the 2003 season, signed a five-year extension through the 2014 season. Jennings and Jeff Ulbrich are the two longest-tenured 49ers on the team. Both were selected in the 2000 draft.


Jennings, a bit of an eccentric, was a seventh-round pick whose only goal at the beginning was to make the 49ers as a rookie.


“The irony about my job is it goes against my personality,” Jennings said. “My job is to be boring and go unnoticed. That goes so much against my personality type. That’s one of the reasons I’m so proud.”


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Safeties Mark Roman (illness) and Reggie Smith (groin), nose tackle Khalif Mitchell (illness) and receiver Jason Hill (hamstring) did not practice this morning.


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Quarterback Alex Smith and cornerback Dre’ Bly both looked very impressive this morning in practice. (I’ll have more on-the-field observations after the p.m. practice.) Rookie tight end Bear Pascoe got an earful from tight ends coach Pete Hoener, who was giving some animated instruction on technique and the use of angles on the blocking sled.


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Receiver Isaac Bruce said he returned to finish his two-year contract with the 49ers because he wants to win a Super Bowl and play in the playoffs again. What does he see from the 49ers that makes him believe that’s possible? “The parity in the NFL,” he said. He pointed out the Rams went from 4-12 to Super Bowl champions.


He said he was disappointed that his friend, Mike Martz, was fired after one season as 49ers offensive coordinator. But he said he has played for different coordinators before in his NFL career. As far as offenses go, Jimmy Raye’s system is not difficult to pick up, he said.


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The 49ers are on Day 2 of seven consecutive days of practices. That is good for the coaching staff, said the new offensive coordinator. Raye said it’s easier for the players to retain information from day to day when they don’t take any breaks.


As for the players, Willis said nobody in the locker room is complaining about working seven consecutive days. He said he knows if the team works hard, coach Mike Singletary will reward them.


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Raye and 49ers head athletic trainer Jeff Ferguson talked this week to a patent lawyer about an invention that has helped alleviate pressure from Raye’s lower back. He underwent fusion surgery several years ago.


In the past, Raye tried to stand on a foam pad on the practice field. But that became impractical. So Ferguson used a soft, saucer-shaped foam that fastens to the bottom of each of Raye’s shoes.


Raye jokingly calls them “Air Rayes.” Although they’re funny looking – kind of a new-age snow shoe – Raye said they are effective. That is why they have contacted a patent lawyer to see if something like this could be marketed.


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