Willis on his way back to Hawaii

Patrick Willis' emergence among the NFL's premier defensive players took another step forward Tuesday when he was named to start at linebacker for the NFC in the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year. The league's reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year was the only 49er selected to the NFC team, but four of his teammates were selected as alternates.

Punter Andy Lee, who joined Willis on the NFC team last year and also was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2007, heads the list of 49ers alternates.

Lee was joined by tight end Vernon Davis, punter Andy Lee, special-teamer Michael Robinson and return specialist Allen Rossum.

Willis is the 49ers' runaway leader in tackles with 153 tackles, according to team statistics. He currently ranks third in the NFL with 121 tackles, according to league statistics, behind Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson (136 tackles) and Carolina's Jon Beason (122).

"I really didn't think I was going to make it back over there this year," Willis said Tuesday. "Just looking at the situation, I was just like, ‘No. There's no way I'm going to be able to make it back.'"

But he did. Besides his impressive tackle total, Willis also has one sack, eight quarterback pressures, a team-high 11 passes defensed and an interception he returned 86 yards for a touchdown.

Willis was one of three rookies to play every single snap in 2007 as he led the team with 226 tackles and was also the only rookie to earn All-Pro honors last season. He has started all 30 games played in his career.

Davis, the first of San Francisco's two first-round draft picks in 2006, was chosen as an alternate for the first time in his career.

Known as one of the top blockers at his position, has caught 27 passes for 323 yards with two touchdowns in 2008. Davis posted season-highs vs. Philadelphia (10-12) with six catches for 75 yards, including a career-long 57-yard catch.

Lee again ranks among the top punters in the NFL, ranking fourth in gross average (47.1). He has also boomed the longest punt in 2008, an 82 yarder vs. New England (10-5).

Robinson was chosen as an alternate for the first time in his career. The Penn State product is one of the team's core special teams players and has a team-leading 15 special teams tackles.

Rossum leads the NFC in punt return average (16.0 yards) and ranks second in kickoff return average (27.3 yards). He had a 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown earlier this year Arizona.

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