Arik Armstead

Willis outlines expectations for 49ers' defense in 2023

Former 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis shared his thoughts on San Francisco's defense heading into the 2023 season.

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SACRAMENTO — 49ers alum Patrick Willis knows a great defense when he sees one. 

Willis shared his thoughts with NBC Sports Bay Area on the potential of the 49ers' defense in 2023 while he was in Sacramento on Thursday to support defensive tackle Arik Armstead’s "Kickoff for Kids Gala."

“It’s going to be interesting,” Willis said. “Obviously, they are not going to have the same exact defense they’ve had for a while working together which sometimes can bring uncertainty. However, they still have the veteran leadership in [linebacker] Fred [Warner] and Arik. I’m looking forward to them to continue to play a high level of football.

"Ultimately, you've got to put in the work.” 

The 49ers' defense has been exceptionally stingy over the past few seasons, most notably the 2019 unit which led the club to a Super Bowl LIV appearance. General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan earmarked that season as San Francisco's most aggressive defensive line rushing the passer.

By adding defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to the mix with Armstead and star edge rusher Nick Bosa, the 49ers' brain trust is hoping to return to that level of domination this fall.

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Willis tempered his excitement for the club's future, noting that nothing is a given. There have been plenty of times when a star-studded roster has plundered their season, but the former All-Pro linebacker sees promise in the group.

“I feel like they very well can,” Willis said of the team retuning to the postseason. “They have the pieces. Obviously they have to put them together when it most counts, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t make a run. But again, it’s a long season and they have to go out and make it happen.”

The 49ers have two more practices in Santa Clara before their summer break. They will reconvene for training camp in mid-July, but it won’t be until Week 1 when the defense will have the chance to prove it can reach its potential. 

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