Patrick Willis knows about playing linebacker.
The former 49ers star, a five-time, first-team All-Pro before retiring after the 2014 season, still lives in the Bay Area and had his eyes on rookie Fred Warner this past season.
The third-round pick from BYU did just fine at linebacker, says Willis.
“He played extremely well and was very consistent, and that’s all you can ask for in a young player,” Willis told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group recently.
It certainly bodes well for the future of a defense that had big problems in 2018 as the 49ers went 4-12.
Warner is one of the few young, talented building blocks the team has, along with defensive linemen DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas, as well as veteran cornerback Richard Sherman.
Warner, who is solid against the run and in pass coverage, was 12th overall in the NFL in tackles with 124. He started all 16 games at middle linebacker and had six passes defensed, a forced fumble and three tackles for loss. He also served as the defensive play caller and played 98.8 percent of all defensive snaps. The analytic website Pro Football Focus graded him as one of the league’s best linebackers in pass coverage.
As defensive coordinator Robert Saleh looks toward the 2019 season and beyond, he’s confident Warner will continue to improve and lead the 49ers defense to improved play. Saleh said that from his first meeting with Warner, he was sold on him.
“He’s one of the smartest interviews I’ve ever had,” Saleh said this past season. “He can take in information better than anyone I’ve been around. He’s up there with (ex-NFL linebacker) Paul Posluszny to me, and Paul Posluszny (who played for the Jaguars and Bills) was darn near a rocket scientist.”
The 49ers have plenty of needs to address this offseason, but middle linebacker, they believe, isn't one of them. The position should be in good hands for a long time.