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Last year we knew the 49ers linebackers were good and showed flashes of a bright future, but no one expected them to reach that bright future so quickly. The 49ers are the shock of the year so far, sitting pretty at 8-1 atop the weakest division in the NFL: the NFC West.
It's only nine games into the season and the 49ers are two or three wins away from clinching the division. The 49ers success is largely due to the dominant play of their defense that ranks first in points allowed per game (15.4) and first in rushing yards allowed per game (73.2 yards).
The success of the 49ers defense is rooted in the dominant play of their linebacker corps, which is solidified by ILB No. 53 NaVorro Bowman and ILB No. 52 Patrick Willis.
The first member of this dynamic tandem is NaVorro Bowman, a second-year man out of Penn State University's "Linebacker U." In almost half the games, Bowman has doubled his production so far this year.
In 2010 Bowman ended the season with 46 tackles (38 solo) and zero passes defended, as compared to this year's numbers of 92 tackles (73 solo) and six passes defended in only nine games played.
Talk about a superstar in the making.
The future is brighter than bright for Bowman because he plays aside one of the most dominant linebackers in the NFL in Patrick Willis.
Aside from his absurd mix of speed and strength, and his unreal statistics, the most impressive aspect of Patrick Willis is his ability to lead by example. Where most players talk the talk, Willis consistently walks the walk and that is seen by every member of the 49ers team and coaching staff.
In nine games this year, Willis has totaled 78 tackles (61 solo), two sacks, eight passes defended and three forced fumbles. Those stats are helping the 49ers defense become one of the most feared and respected defenses in the league.
If there is one linebacker in the NFL that current college players and NFL rookies should strive to be like, it's clearly Patrick Willis. He is living proof that hard work pays off, and if you are willing to put your money where your mouth is you can achieve anything.
If the 49ers want to win the NFC West and make a run deep into the playoffs, this dynamic linebacker tandem must stay healthy and continue their dominant play.
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