Willis: I'm still thrilled to get the news. I really didn't think I was going to make it back over there this year. Just looking at the situation, I was just like, ‘No. There's no way I'm going to be able to make it back.' I already had my mind focusing on finishing these two games strong, finishing with a win, going into the offseason and working my tail off and getting to come back bigger, stronger, faster and ready to go for another season.
Q: Did you feel that way because of the team's record and you that might be overlooked because of that, or did you think there were just other linebackers in the league that were more deserving? Why did you think that?
Willis: I just thought that because our record is not good. And also, too, something that got me, I knew there were some other guys who had some fantastic seasons. I know for me, coming off the season I had last year, the big plays here and there weren't as potent as it was this year. But looking at the situation too, any real person could see that if you're out there on the field a lot, then you're going to have the opportunity to make more plays, and I did. This year, it was a lot different. Our offense was out there, they were running the ball, they were taking time off of the clock, and they were putting up points. I'll take that. I'll take that any season, and that's just what I had to deal with. Like I said, I'll take that over being out there 80 and 90 snaps a game any day. I just think, playing all that into it that it would kind of go against me a little bit.
Q: Obviously, last year was validation that you received a lot of respect around the league. But, to not have the eye-popping tackle numbers and to still make the Pro Bowl is it more of sign to you of how you're respected around the league?
Willis: I believe it is now looking at it like that because if you look at it, I think it does. Like I said, my stats were nowhere near like they were last year. That's the way I was looking at it. I was looking at it like, ‘Man, the stats were not what they were last year, so they'll try to hold that against me.' But now that I think about it, it has to be respect level because he goes out here and continues to play, he does his job, keeps his nose (clean), and he's deserving of it. So, I'm thankful for that.
Q: So much of the vote is fan vote and that's a big contributor for a lot of these players that will be in Honolulu with year. How grateful are you to the fans that voted for you because clearly there's a lot of support in the Bay Area for you to make the Pro Bowl?
Willis: I'm very grateful for them. Let me say, I'm thankful for my teammates, my coaches and the players who voted for me across the league and the coaches who voted for me across the league and the fans who voted for me. I just give the credit to my teammates and my coaches for all of their help and their support, too.
Q: Aren't the tackle numbers a little misleading in that the better the defense does, the quicker you get off the field and the less opportunity you have to make tackles? Does having fewer tackles than last year actually mean you might be playing better than last year?
Willis: Yeah, it does. I think we played, but I know we played better as a defense than last year. We've got a lot of playmakers on that defense, and those guys have made plays this year and even before that. So, that's why if you go back there and you look at it, some people won't look at it like the way you said it or the way I see it. A lot of people just look at it like, ‘Oh, he didn't have that many tackles.' Well, if they don't think that those guys that around me are good players as well and we're getting off the field, and then on top of that, our offense has been tremendous this year.
Q: What have you learned about yourself this season, as far as trying to live up to those expectations that you set last season for yourself?
Willis: I've learned this season that you've just got to go out there and play. As long as you're going out there and you're giving it everything that you've got, then you can be comfortable with whatever happens. But, situations like this, being elected to this, and awards have been – the awards you've been up for and the awards you've not been up to…because if I didn't make the Pro Bowl this year, I wouldn't have hung my head, I wouldn't have said, ‘Oh man, I've got to do something different this offseason I've got to do this,' because I know that every practice, every game, I came out and I gave it everything I had. That's how I thought about it. I just thought, ‘You know what? I'm not going to hang my head on anything because I came out every game and every practice and practiced and played my tail off, and whatever happened happened.' That's how I felt.