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Willis, Bowman Motivated by 49ers Coaches

Posted Jan 15, 2014

San Francisco's inside linebackers each recalled being inspired by defensive assistants when the new staff arrived in 2011.


Three years ago, when the 49ers current coaching staff took the reins, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman checked their egos at the door.

They were asked to.

Now Willis and Bowman are the nucleus of the most decorated linebacker group in the NFL.

Yes, the Seattle Seahawks defensive backfield gets its fair share of the spotlight. And rightly so: The NFC West champs’ secondary is highlighted by three Pro Bowlers in cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

This trio will no doubt have an affect on Sunday, when Seattle hosts San Francisco for the conference’s title game.

The 49ers quartet will have its say-so, too.

“I definitely think it’s the best linebacker corps in the league,” said reserve outside ‘backer Dan Skuta, who made eight starts this season and currently comes off the bench. “Obviously, we have three Pro Bowlers and any other (year), Aldon (Smith) would be going too.”

To hear Willis and Bowman tell it, 49ers defensive coaches have pushed their contingent, which also comprises the emerging Ahmad Brooks, to make this happen.

Willis, for one, said he will never forget his first position-group meeting with Jim Leavitt in 2011.

“We walked in, and we sat down and he told NaVorro and I with the linebacker corps, he said ‘I'm going to let you guys know now, there’s no egos here on my part, we leave that at the door,’” Willis recalled. “And when he said that, it kind of just let me know then, I'm going to enjoy working for this guy. And it’s been fun every year.”

Bowman’s early experience that same offseason, his second as a pro and before his first major playing time, left him with a similar feeling. He was struck by the entire defense’s first meeting as a unit under the direction of coordinator NaVorro Bowman.

“When he got here, he mentioned, ‘The only people that have their spots are Pat and ‘Cowboy,’” Bowman said, referencing Willis and another veteran, Missouri-produced defensive tackle Justin Smith. “That was a shot at everybody else in the room. I took that as a challenge.”

For all the tackles, fumbles, interceptions and sacks that Willis, Bowman and their fellow ‘backers rack up – and those numbers are impressive – there is this simple notion: Coaches like Leavitt have the ability to motivate great players to be even better.

Willis was reminded of this again before taking the practice field on Wednesday afternoon.

“He said, ‘Man, I just wish that I could strap up one play.’ He said, ‘I might get run over, but I would hold on for my dear life,’” Willis said of Leavitt. “When you got a coach saying that he’s willing to step out there and it means that much to him that if he could pad up he would give everything he has, you have to look inside yourself and say, 'You know what, he can't do it, but I can. So let me do it for the both of us.”

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