The 49ers are looking for a leader with the retirement of Bryant Young and Mike Nolan has already placed that responsibility on Patrick Willis. Nolan says Willis has taken the role naturally, and, really, it’s hard to argue. Who else would take that role?
Isaac Bruce, a 15-year veteran, is a candidate, but he just joined the 49ers. In a sport like football, with its massive 50 person-plus roster, it’s a tall order for a new acquisition to catch the ear of an entire team. There are too many players on the squad who have already been with the team. The ability for a new player to take a leadership role is more apparent in a sport like basketball, as seen by Kevin Garnett immediately changing the mentality of the Boston Celtics. The team is smaller, thus the impact of one player is greater.
Looking around the rest of the 49ers, Frank Gore and Nate Clements loom as potential leaders. Gore is as intense as they come, but he isn’t a vocal leader. Clements is a consummate pro, but it’s unusual for a cornerback to take a lead role. Maybe it’s the fact that corners play on an island on the field and aren’t usually in the middle of the scruff on every play, like middle linebackers such as Willis are. Corners, and even wide receivers, are usually perceived as ego-centric loudmouths. How many times have you ever seen a player from either position become a team leader? If you say Deion Sanders, Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens, I’d argue their more unofficial team spokesmen than leaders. Hines Ward and Champ Bailey are really the only two current island players whom I can think of that are true leaders.
Anyway, Willis is mature beyond is years, is literally in the middle of every play as the middle linebacker and he is one of the league’s best players. Soon, he might be one of the league’s best players, young and old. I’m on board with Willis as the 49ers team leader. Are you?