SANTA CLARA Patrick Willis never will forget one of his first 49ers practices in 2007.
The then-rookie inside linebacker was going against guard Larry Allen, one of the biggest and most powerful men who ever played in the NFL, when he heard Mike Singletary's voice ring out behind him.
"He said, 'Hey, what are you doing, son?' " Willis said. "And I looked around and said, 'What do you think I'm doing? I'm trying to get around this big dude.' "
That's not how you do it, Singletary told Willis. He wanted the young linebacker to go straight at the imposing guard.
"And I'm thinking to myself, I don't know physics, but " Willis said. "But from that point on, I got to the mindset where it was like, OK, if that's what he wants, that's what I'm going to do."
Singletary will be on the opposite sideline when Willis and the 49ers take on the Vikings on Sunday, the first regular-season game in which the 49ers have faced their former coach since he was let go during the 2010 season.
Other players this week had a harder time describing Singletary's legacy with the 49ers. But none had an ill word for their former coach and all who were asked said they were eager to shake his hand before the game.
Singletary also visited Candlestick Park with the Vikings during the exhibition season.
"My hat is off to him," said safety Dashon Goldson, who also was part of the 49ers' 2007 draft.
Singletary has the same title with the Vikings that he did when Mike Nolan hired him with the 49ers in 2005. He coaches the linebackers and is an assistant head coach to Leslie Frazier, who played alongside Singletary with the Chicago Bears in the 1980s. Unlike when he was under Nolan, Singletary doesn't regularly speak in front of the team, Frazier said.
Willis, meanwhile, went on to lead the NFL in tackles in 2007, and he said he's held onto the go-right-at-'em mindset ever since. He said it's what gives him confidence when facing someone 100 pounds heavier.
"(Singletary) taught me how to be a little bit more of a downhill guy," Willis said.
Paying through the nose The NFL fined Lions safety John Wendling $7,875 for throwing a forearm at sliding 49ers quarterback Alex Smith on Sunday, a shot that left Smith with a gash on the bridge of his nose and blood streaming down his face. Wendling was not penalized on the play.
Of course, that amount is just a little more than half of the $15,000 Smith initially was fined last season for wearing a San Francisco Giants baseball cap that wasn't sanctioned by the NFL. The league later reconsidered and let Smith off with a warning.
In a show of solidarity, Giants manager Bruce Bochy on Thursday wore a 49ers cap for his pregame chat with the media while some Giants players also wore 49ers gear after their win over the Colorado Rockies.
That sparked a big response from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who called Bochy's gesture "tremendous" and praised the Giants organization.
"Late at night I'll be driving home, just about every night it seems like, they'll re-broadcast the game and I'll catch it there," Harbaugh said.
"Just exciting winning with numbing repetition. It's been a real inspiration for me, personally."
Injuries The 49ers continue to list wide receiver Ted Ginn (ankle) as questionable even though he returned to practice this week on a limited basis.
Running back Brandon Jacobs, who hasn't practiced since an Aug. 18 knee injury, also is listed as questionable. Punter Andy Lee (hand) is probable.
For the Vikings, inside linebacker Erin Henderson, who had 22 tackles during the first two weeks, is out with a concussion.