My Interviews With 49ers LB Patrick Willis and QB Alex Smith

S LCorrespondent IJune 11, 2009

On Wednesday night, 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis and quarterback Alex Smith hosted a special screening of "The Taking of Pelham 123."

In addition to Willis and Smith, Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, safety Michael Huff, and rookie wide receiver Derrius Heyward-Bey were also in attendance.

Aside from getting a free pass to see a movie two days before its nationwide release, I got a chance to talk with both Willis and Smith on the red carpet prior to the movie.

Samuel Lam: Do you have a favorite Denzel Washington movie?

Patrick Willis: He’s been in so many. My favorite would probably be “Remember the Titans.” I remember watching that when I was in high school.

Coming from the South, it wasn’t bad like that, but it happened to be like that whole situation. It reminded me of playing football in the South. It really hit a lot of teams. It brought a lot of guys closer watching that. I think that’s my favorite one.

SL: You said that the defense was Top 10 material. Last year you finished number 13 overall. What has defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and the defense done to make sure the defense is Top 10 material?

PW: I think our whole approach to how we work, and how we execute with attention to detail, is a lot different than it has been. We have a little bit more freedom to do our thing. Before, it was a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

It’s his third year now as defensive coordinator, and with time we get better. We have a lot of guys that want to do well, and we want to be one of the best defenses in the league, if not the best. All that plays a part of one another.

SL: Last year, you were awarded with the title of being captain. For a little bit, you had the defensive radio signal in your helmet. How have you adjusted now that the team has given you a lot of responsibilities like being captain?

PW: It’s a blessing to be in this situation. It’s even more of a blessing to have your teammates depend on you, and to have your teammates trust on you knowing that you have their back. You know, when it gets crazy you put them on your shoulders and say “You know what? It’s because of me," or, "I got this," or, "we can get it done.”

It’s not pressure. I heard Coach Sing say in an interview that, “pressure is when you’re not prepared.” And every day I go to work. Every day I go to work. And I make sure that I’m getting better and better every day, so there’s no pressure. When I heard him make that comment, I was like “that’s so true.” That’s legit. That’s real.

SL: Speaking of Coach Sing, we know that he’s a Hall of Fame linebacker and now he’s your head coach. How has that worked out for you? Have you given yourself time to sit down with him and talk about how he approached the game when he was a linebacker, and how that could translate to your game?

PW: One thing you try not to do as a father, as a coach, is pressure your son to do something that you’ve done. You don’t just keep saying, “this is what I’ve done, this is what I’ve done.” You have to take a little piece at a time.

What he’s done with me is that he’s incorporated a little bit at a time; not throw it all under you at one time. He kind of took me and molded me in the way he wanted me to play as a linebacker. With the abilities I already had, it was like the right match, the right mix. Now that he’s not my coach anymore, as a positions coach, I still take those fundamentals that he taught me.

The small things that guys tend to do and not think about, I still apply it every day even though he’s not there. It’s been good, and it’s been wonderful so far.

Samuel Lam: What’s your favorite John Travolta film?

Alex Smith: I’d probably have to say “Pulp Fiction.”

SL: How’s your shoulder? Is it 100 percent where you can take contact now, or do you feel that you want to see how it feels during this summer’s camp?

AS: I’m really close to being all the way there with rehab—I’m feeling really good. I’m almost at 100 percent. It’s the best I’ve felt in a long, long time. I feel that I can take some hits, and make all the throws I can. But yeah, I’m feeling really good this time.

SL: You haven’t played in a regular season game since halfway through the 2007 season. But during that time, you’ve been on the sideline with the rest of the team, watching them play. How has that changed your perspective as a football player watching the team from the sideline?

AS: It’s been difficult to not suit up and being part of the team in that sense. Yeah, I’ve been there in the meetings and on the sidelines, but I haven’t been really accountable to my teammates for a couple years now. I just want to be back on the field. I really love this game—it’s where I belong…not just being in the training room, or on the sidelines without any pads on.

I’m just glad to be out there with my teammates—that’s the biggest thing: to be accountable to them. They worked so hard and put all that time in, and not to be around is disappointing. I’m glad to be back out there.

SL: There is a new offensive playbook with Jimmy Raye (who learned a few things from Norv Turner when they were in Oakland), and you had your best season with Norv Turner. How similar is the playbook?

AS: You know, there are some similarities. They have different people, different attitudes and different attitudes that reflect down on the playbook and coaching. There are similarities—they have similar backgrounds and coaching histories of where they come from.

Some of the language we use is very similar. The playbook, as far as terminology, is very similar. But I think the style of play and the style of offense that we’re going to have is going to be a little different.

Overall, both these guys were nothing but professionals. They were both very fun to interview, and they obviously provided some great insight on their game and expectations for this upcoming season.

What I liked most about both Willis and Smith was that after they had finished their interviews with the media, they hung around in the lobby of the movie theater and took pictures and signed autographs with whomever was around. Willis ended up introducing himself and thanking the audience for coming out to the movie. Overall, it was nice to see these players away from the field and just enjoying themselves.

Tackle Joe Staley also made it to the red carpet to support Smith, but couldn't stay for the movie. Well, it either was Staley or someone that looked very similar to him.

The original article for this can be found at Examiner.com.

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