Dec 29, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (52) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Willis on Chris Borland: 'He’s a nice little rascal'

The San Francisco 49ers most likely won’t have superstar inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman for the first half of the season as he recovers from a torn ACL, but the 49ers have so much depth at linebacker that they will be fine without him for the time being. Sometimes, injuries to star players at the beginning of the season can prove to be silver linings, because it allows young, “next men up” a chance to break out (we saw that last year when Denver Broncos offensive tackle Chris Clark stepped in for Ryan Clady). Plus, the injured player will be back for the key part of the season, which is when the contender truly needs him most. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith is another star on the league’s best linebackers corps who will be out for a few games to start the season, possibly giving us a good look at second-year pass rusher Corey Lemonier.

The USA Today’s Tom Pelissero took in 49ers training camp yesterday, and he had several insightful observations and quotes for us, particularly when it comes to the 49ers suddenly stacked wide receiver corps. But I thought the most interesting quote was star ILB Patrick Willis’s praise of rookie Chris Borland, who could make a big impact on the front seven in Bowman’s absence.

Pelissero writes that Willis was asked which young player would “help” the Niners in 2014, and he responded, “I do like Chris Borland. He’s a nice little rascal.”

One of Borland’s lone knocks coming out of college was his lack of size, but he more than made up for it with his incredible instincts that Jim Harbaugh went out of his way to praise earlier this offseason. The 49ers are going to let him use those instincts to help diagnose rushing plays, and he will learn from two of the best leaders and linebackers in the league in San Francisco. Borland is such a beast against the run that he received lofty comparisons to former Miami Dolphins legend (I think he qualifies for “legend” status in the context of their organization) Zach Thomas, and Willis isn’t about to stop the hype train.

Tags: Chris Borland Patrick Willis San Francisco 49ers

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