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Tuesday, August 9, 2011
How 49ers want Patrick Willis to improve

By Mike Sando

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Patrick Willis set a career high with six sacks last season. The four-time Pro Bowl choice has 10 sacks over the past two seasons, tied with Pittsburgh's Lawrence Timmons among NFL leaders at inside linebacker.

Willis
Willis
The 49ers' new coaching staff wants more.

"He is very good and better than I thought he was in most areas," new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said after practice Tuesday. "We need to make him a better blitzer."

Specifically, the 49ers are working with Willis to improve his technique against running backs assigned to account for blitzes. Willis is already a complete inside linebacker with no apparent weaknesses to his game. Rushing the passer generally isn't a priority at his position; most elite pass-rushing linebackers play on the outside. But the 49ers think Willis can become more dynamic, a scary thought for opposing defenses.

"I think it would complete his game, to where not only is he a good cover linebacker and he plays the run well, but he's a threat when we rush him as either the fourth or fifth guy," Fangio said. "He is behind as a blitzer from a know-how standpoint. ... He knows that and is working diligently both on and off the field."

Even the best players can get better. Pushing Willis in this area seems like a no-lose proposition for San Francisco.