Willis from the other side

What kind of collision can be expected when Patrick Willis closes the hole on Adrian Peterson? In a conversation this week with members of the Minnesota media, San Francisco's star rookie linebacker talks 49ers and Vikings and covers a variety of topics, including his offseason workouts with Peterson, the comparisons to Ray Lewis, his run at records and what goes into making so many tackles.

Q: How much do you know about Adrian Peterson? Have you ever faced each other at all?
Willis:
No sir, no sir. I have never played against him in football or anything like that. We just trained at the same place for the combine and workouts and stuff.

Q: Did you get to know him?
Willis:
Yes sir, yes sir. I got to know him a little bit. He is a great guy. He works hard. I know he is a hard worker, always doing extra.

Q: What are your thoughts when you see him on film?
Willis:
A great runner. I kind of got to see him a little bit when he was in college and just see some of the things he did in college and then now just watching him on film and studying him on film he is a good running back. He cuts, breaks tackles, runs hard.

Q: He has been open with his goals, 1,800 yards rushing and so forth. Did you have any goals coming into the league that you voiced?
Willis:
Really just goals within myself, just to come in this first year and try to be the best that I can possibly be as a rookie. I mostly set long-term goals more than I do short-term goals. My goals were just to come in and show the 49ers that they made the right choice of taking me with their first selection.

Q: Describe the collision if the hole opens up and it's you and Adrian? What kind of collision can we expect?
Willis:
I wish I could say. Like I said, he runs hard and I like to say I tackle hard so I don't know. We'll have to see if it happens on game day. I am sure it's bound to happen.

Q: How much has Mike Singletary helped you?
Willis:
Oh man, Coach Singletary has helped me out a lot. It's been a blessing being coached by him. He has really helped me find strength that I really didn't know I had. I owe a lot of my success this year to him.

Q: If your team is going to win this game, is stopping Peterson goal number one?
Willis:
Oh, yes sir. Adrian is a good running back. You can't take anything from him; he has been productive this year. I think he is leading the National Football League in rushing and I think as far as yards per carry he is right up there too. He is a big factor in their offense but also Chester Taylor is too. They have got a good combo of a one-two punch so we really have to just come in and be focused on just stopping the run, period.

Q: Being on pace to set a record for tackles in the NFL as a rookie, have you even surprised yourself in some regard?
Willis:
I don't get really caught up in the stats. What I know is what our media guys come up and say…me personally I just come to work each day and just practice to be the very best that I can be and the very best I can be on game day. Once the season is over with then I will go and look at stats but right now the biggest focus is on preparing for the next team. I am preparing for the next opponent and within that stats are not a part of.

Q: Your coach was talking about the Ray Lewis comparisons, whose style of the former linebackers does yours most closely resemble?
Willis:
I don't know. I really don't know. I like to say with all due respect to every other linebacker who played this game before me I like to just say I play my own style of football. Whenever people look back and say he plays a lot like such and such…but as far as me being like I want to play like such and such or I want to be like such and such, I don't really have that in my mind anymore. When I was younger of course I had idols and had guys I would say, ‘Man, I hope some day I can be like that person' but now I am here. I have got to become my own athlete, become my own person, and that is just what I try to do.

Q: Who were the people that you wanted to be like when you were younger?
Willis:
Oh man, when I was younger I used to be a big Na'il Diggs fan when he was at Ohio State, Andy Katzenmoyer when he was at Ohio State. Who else? LaVar Arrington, Ray Lewis, just guys who had a nose for the ball, that go after the ball. I mean it could be anywhere from safeties to d-linemen to linebackers. I just like guys that just go get it, be the winners.

Q: You have seen these highlights on ESPN where Adrian is making linebackers and defensive backs look silly; is it motivation to not be that guy when you play a guy like him?
Willis:
No, not really. Like I said, he gets paid just as I do, just as each other person does. When they drafted him number seven they drafted him because they saw something special in him. So to me I am thinking hey, this is a great running back. Like I said I trained with him and I have seen what he has done this far so I don't go into it thinking, ‘Oh man, I hope he doesn't make me miss,' or nothing like that. When I got out there and play I just play football and whatever happens within that 60 minutes is going to happen and after it is over with there is nothing else you can do about it. So my mindset is just go out there and just play the very best I can play and not worry about if he is going to make me miss or if he is going to make me look bad on TV. That is part of football; that is the game to me. You are going to give some just as you are going to take some sometimes. Like I said, you just never know.

Q: What is the key to not missing when he gives all those head fakes and all those moves? What is the key when you are breaking down and trying to tackle him to not miss like that?
Willis:
You said it; you don't want to break down on a guy like that. You just want to go because running backs such as Adrian Peterson, Reggie Bush, and LaDainian Tomlinson, those guys, that's what they want. They want you to stop your feet and as soon as you stop your feet they have got you. They are running backs; their feet are just as quick as yours. The biggest thing is to try to get them before they get started, get them before they are at their best. A lot of times good running backs you want to try to get something on them before they get started or whatever. Then to watch them on film, once you give them one-on-ones, you are pretty much saying you know what, it's a done deal. You want to play team ball and you want to keep them as slow as you can for as long as you can.

Q: What goes into making so many tackles every week? Is it a lot of film study, speed or what is it?
Willis:
A little bit of everything, I mean it's a combination of everything. You have got to be able to diagnose the play and go get it. A lot of guys can see it and don't go get it and a lot of guys can react and go get it, and then a lot of guys just study film and know where it is going. To me, it's just a little bit of everything; I can't just say one thing.

Q: But you study a lot of film?
Willis:
I study a little bit. I really don't know what a whole lot is but I sit and I put in time.

Q: The offense has struggled this year. Do you guys on defense feel like you have to pitch a shutout or hold a team to no more than one or two touchdowns to have a chance?
Willis:
Our goal is to keep a team under 17 points. That is our team defensive scoring goal. Obviously here lately we haven't done that so actually this week we are trying to keep it as low as we can.

Q: How frustrating is it for the defense to be playing well and have the offense not live up to their end?
Willis:
You are going to have seasons like that. Things are going to happen. We are all in it together. It takes three phases to win a game and like I said we are all in it together. We have each other's backs and we will continue to fight for one another and we'll see.



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