In the wake of Patrick Willis’ contract extension, a lot of people have been talking about the NFL’s 30-percent rule. Apparently, it means that 30 percent of all NFL media coverage must be devoted to Willis.
Hey, good for him. The big linebacker deserves all the attention he gets. Yesterday afternoon, I heard him on KNBR 1050 AM with Tom Tolbert. This morning he was on ESPN News’ “First Take.” A lot of it was boilerplate material, but there were some notable tidbits.
Willis told Tolbert that he could play every position on the basketball court in high school, and averaged 18.2 points as a senior. He also cited WR Josh Morgan at the 49ers’ best hoops player. Willis talked a lot of wrestling and Madden football with KNBR, acknowledging that he plays on-line and adding, “I be whuppin’ ’em, too.” One more thing: The three-time Pro Bowler told ESPN that the Patrick Willis may soon be captured in print or film, a la “Blind Side.”
Maybe the most interesting material came when Tolbert asked Willis about presnap reads and decoding a quarterback’s audibles. Here’s Willis:
“As soon as I make the call I hurry up and get everyone lined up, and then you gotta make the strength call, which Spikes, most of the time he does that. Then I look at the formation, I look at the backfield set, and I start looking to see if I can tell if a lineman’s setting back, he’s setting heavy or not. And then a lot of times, too, it depends on the formation that they give me. If I see light, I kind of know a lot of times what passes are coming because of like the width of the receivers. And then if they’re heavy depending on the backfield set, I can tell a lot of times what runs they like to run a whole lot out of that set. So my mind is already prepared to play that play before it happens. So if it happens, boom, I hit it fast. If it’s not exactly what I think it is, then my mind is already like ‘I know it’s gotta be something,’ and I just react to it and make the play.”
Willis told Tolbert that maybe 6 or 7 times out of 10, he could predict the play that’s coming based on formation and down-and-distance. Willis:
“My first year? I’m not gonna lie, I was just out there reacting off of everything. But then you start to watch film, then you start to know teams’ tendencies. Then when me and Spikes play together, it’s been an honor to play with him. Because we’ll sit down during the week and watch film, and he’ll be, ‘A’ight, what you think they gonna do out of this?’ I’ll say what I think, and he’d be like, ‘Yeah, boy.’ And then vice-versa, I ask him the same thing, so on game day we’re communicating that same way. He’ll be like ‘P, get ready for the iso,’ and I’ll be like to him, ‘Spikes, get ready for the follow route.’ Just different stuff like that depending on down and distance and what you see.”
When a quarterback is calling audibles at the line, how much is instruction and how much is just trying to confuse the defense? Willis:
“Sometimes it takes a series to figure that out, a series or two. And our guys do a really, really good job – Justin Smith and Aubrayo Franklin and Ray McDonald, they do a good job of when they hear audibles in the first series, we go on the sidelines and we’ll talk about it, and when we go back out for the second series and they already know, ‘OK, when they hear a lineman make his check, the ball’s over this way,’ or ‘they run the ball this side’ – ‘P, the ball’s coming this way.’ And so we all do a good job of communicating, or vice-versa. Say for instance it’s Peyton Manning. He might make an audible, and if you see, like he loves to run that trips set. Depending on how far the slot receiver is from the tight end, or that second receiver is between the outside receiver and the tight end, a lot of times when he makes that audible you can tell he’s gonna audible to the run, or depending on the down and distance, if they’re gonna run a quick slant or whatnot. So it’s all about studying film, and on top of that just the defense playing together.”
Also on KNBR, Willis discussed the importance of attending voluntary workouts. The name Manny Lawson was not mentioned, but Willis’ take could have been seen as a reaction to Lawson’s decision to skip non-mandatory practices this offseason as he seeks a better contract.
“I think it’s very important that guys be here for the OTAs, and when we have camps, because I think it builds camaraderie between the players. And then on top of that, you always have younger guys that come in, and they gotta see how it’s done. I can see guys that are real old, I know that sometimes they’re not gonna be there. But guys that are capable of being there, that are still young in their careers, I think it means a lot for them to be there. But sometimes guys just, they have other reasons or other business to attend to, I assume.”