49ers

1-on-1 with 49ers safety Donte Whitner

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1-on-1 with 49ers safety Donte Whitner

Donte Whitner tells it like it is. You ask a question, hell answer it honestly and directly. His answers are never off the cuff or flippant. They contain meaning.Whitner can speak this way because he is a master of evaluation. You pick that up right away upon talking to him. He seeks information, observes it, processes it and makes it part of his experience. Its why the safety is the quarterback of the 49ers defense. That, and his first round worthy athletic skills.I spoke to Whitner in the locker room right after the loss to the Cardinals and the day after for a profile for this weeks 49ers Central. He had the same thoughtful demeanor both times. He didnt shy away from talking about what happened in Arizona, because in his evaluation, everyone saw it.Whitner played his first five years for Buffalo before signing a three-year deal with the 49ers. In our conversation, he shared how he came to play in the Bay Area.
Mindi Bach: You had committed to Cincinnati. Even tweeted about it. Then you decided to come to the 49ers. What was it that made you change your mind?Donte Whitner: Being able to play on a defense with Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, a lot of the young guys that we have here. Mostly everybody is entering their prime or really young guys except for Justin. Hes already got 10 years plus. So that was one of the things that drew me here. I understood that they had good players and you always want to go and play with good playersMB: Did you talk to any of them before?DW: I didnt talk to any of them before. The only person I talked to was Ted Ginn. You know me and Ted went to high school together, college. Were friends, so that was the only person. I asked him how was the environment out here? Hows the weather? Hows living out here? How do you like it? And everything was all thumbs up. It made it a lot easier for me.MB: You get to the Bay Area. You have a new coordinator, and its really your first change. What struck you first about the players and Vic Fangio and what they were trying to do in a short amount of time?DW: Well, first off you have to make an impression on the coaching staff and on the players as an individual. You have to come in, you have to work. You have to work hard, and you have to lead by example. You cant come in and just start talking and running your mouth. You have to come in and work and show that youre willing to do things that other people arent willing to do to get to where we want to go. After that, then you start to find out how people accept you and how they work and what they expect of you. Its been pretty cool. Its been pretty cool. Its not actually, its my second time, well, actually my third head coach because we had Dick Jauron and they fired him up in Buffalo. And then we had Chan Gailey. So I went through a change before and I understood what I had to do to make an impression on that coaching staff and on the players. And since Ive been here its been pretty good. Vic has a totally different scheme from what Im used to playing. He allows his players to go out there and make calls and do things based on what they see and not just play like robots so its been fun.MB: Is that new for you? Carlos Rogers has been open about how he had that in Washington, lost it and found it here with Vic Fangio. Is that something youve experienced before or is it a new style for you?DW: Ive never experienced it before. The schemes and style of defense I played in before was sort of controlled. When I first came into the NFL I was drafted into a Tampa 2 scheme. Anybody who knows about Tampa 2 scheme, its basically a bunch of guys out there playing like robots. You have a spot, you drop, you see where youre going, you run. And thats basically it. Thats the same defense that Indianapolis played for a long time. The same defense Chicago played. So you dont really have much freedom. Its really black and white. This defense, based on what you see, based on formation, based on any motion or any alignment you have the freedom to make two or three or maybe four calls on that play. Thats what makes this defense a really good defense. It gives the players freedom to make plays and make calls based on what they see and use the film study used all week.MB: What is your main role in that defensive secondary? What does Vic ask you to do that sets up everybody else?DW: I bring a sense of calm to the secondary and the linebackers with vocals. A lot of times you get guys who really arent sure what their responsibilities are. If youre a guy that knows other guys responsibilities then you can bring a sense of calm to the defense. You make that call, you let them know it is the right call, what theyre thinking is correct and then when youre not thinking then you can play fast and thats what I bring to this defense.MB: When did you finally reach that sense of calm, because I would assume that in your first game it did not come as easily as it may in game 13.DW: They put it on me early. I came in here I think August. I cant remember what day I came in, and Coach Ed, defensive backs coach, came to me that night and said Im going to be in the starting line up the next day and he expected me to know the defense and make the calls on the football field. That was maybe four or five hours of studying, and in practice the next day they expected me to be out there making all the calls, so Ive been doing it since I came in. I dont know if they expected me to do it so soon, but thats when it started and as you go week to week to week, and you get more familiar with the players that are around you, then it came a lot more. Week 13 and week 14, its a lot better than week 1.MB: When you have a game that happened like the one on Sunday, can you recognize the problems right away?DW: Yeah. I can recognize the problems right away. I can almost be like a coach on the football field. Even the small things. We had a seam route and Parys was supposed to carry the seam. Things like that. Before he gets to the sideline and the coaches tell him, I can tell him on the football field before they even tell him in case we get that before we reach the sideline. I can recognize it and yesterday we take that game solely on the defensive backs. It really doesnt matter about offense or not being able to get into the end zone. If we dont allow them to get big plays or get in the end zone, we win that football game. So as the secondary we have to take responsibility for that loss yesterday and we take full responsibility for that.MB: What was the biggest reason for those big plays?DW: Not being detailed in our work. Wed seen everything they had to throw at us in practice. We knew everything that they were going to do and based on our film study and where our coaches had prepared us for all week, we should have went out in that game, we felt like we shouldnt have given up any points at all. We gave up entirely too many big plays and thats uncharacteristic of this defense, and were going to fix it.MB: You are going to be here for three seasons. What does it mean to you that you are going to be here for three years and part of this?DW: Three year deal is good. Hopefully I can get a longer term deal than three years. Thats my goal. I dont want to have to change football teams again. I want to be with a team, play well, win football games compete for a championship consistently each year and not have to change teams again.MB: One of the things that has driven a lot of the players here is they havent had winning seasons since college. Is thats what drives you too?DW: Yeah, thats whats been driving me. When you first get into the league its like Oh, wow. Im in the national football league. Its fun. But then as you become a veteran player you understand that the only thing that matters is winning. OK, youre here but now what are you going to do? And there are guys around here that havent been winning. Weve had opportunity to taste winning this year and hopefully we can keep it going because winning is a whole lot better than losing.MB: What is your biggest strength on the field?DW: My biggest strength? I think its in the run game. Its natural to me. Ive been doing it for so long from high school, college, just being able to see things in the run game before they happen.MB: Before I let you go, is there anything else that stands out for you?DW: Its been fun. Its been a lot of fun. I know that they havent had a winning season around here in a long time, and I experienced the same thing in Buffalo. I just want to let the fans know that we do understand their frustrations and their pains when losing is going on. When we lose games like yesterday, we do understand. Just know that were working. Were working and were ultimately trying to compete for a super bowl and a championship.MB: Where does your game intelligence come from? I know you did well in the class room, but is there another aspect with game intelligence because sometimes the two are separate.DW: The two are definitely separate. You are going to have guys that attend Harvard and Stanford, and when they step on a football field they dont know whats going on. I dont really know where it comes from. Ive been really fortunate to have some really, really good football coaches over the years. Mel Tucker, hes now the interim head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He recruited me out of high school. He was my defensive backs coach in college and then he went on to the Cleveland Browns and we communicate regularly. And through Teds father, Ted Ginn, Senior. Just being able to understand what my role is. A lot of those guys made me understand what my role was early. Made me understand how you can have value to a football team and it doesnt have to be through actually playing or the plays that you make. It can be through making other players around you better or helping guys out with their shortcomings. So I dont really know where it comes from but I know that Ive had some really, really good football coaches over the years that have helped me and really understand how to study the game and how to be prepared when I step on the football field.MB: Final one, which player on the defense do you have to calm the most?DW: I would say Ahmad Brooks. And I would think everybody in the locker room would say that. Hes naturally a silly guy. You know hes a tremendous football player and sometimes people need help out there. Sometimes they do, sometimes they dont, everybody in the National Football League. There are some teams where theyll bring in two safeties and theyll have one make the call and let the other one just play free, and thats how it goes sometime. Its no knock on him. Hes a tremendous football player but we all help Ahmad a lot. And we continuously talk to him and hopefully he continues to make plays.

Veterans most vulnerable to losing roster spots with 49ers

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USATI

Veterans most vulnerable to losing roster spots with 49ers

At the midway point of the 49ers’ exhibition season, there continues to be a lot of competition and more than a handful of veterans who have yet to lock down roster spots.

“I can tell you, it’s going to be real tough to cut it down to 53,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said last week. “We’re going to need all this game and practices to evaluate that.”

Here are the 49ers’ returning veteran players whose roster spots appear to be the most vulnerable with two weeks of practices and two exhibition games remaining to prove themselves:

OLB Ahmad Brooks
Brooks’ $4.45 million base salary is not much of a concern, considering the team is still $65.2 million under the salary cap. The number that factors into this decision the most is 33. That’s Brooks’ age.

If he is not clearly better than 23-year-old Eli Harold at the SAM linebacker position, the 49ers might want to keep the younger player to develop. Brooks is not talked about for his locker-room presence, so this decision will be made solely for what he does on the field and what he is expected to give the team in the future.

“You want to know who’s got the most upside and things like that,” Shanahan said. “Who’s going to be better throughout the year, if given the opportunity. But you also want to know who when it’s all said and done who’s going to affect your win-loss record the most. Those are the things that I look at personally. You don’t always want to think who’s the best guy for Week 1. Who’s the best guy for the 2017 49ers?”

OG Zane Beadles
Beadles is currently working with the first-team offense, but his spot on the roster remains vulnerable. The 49ers’ decision-makers do not seem impressed with their offensive guards. The 49ers could look to pick up a guard from another team before the start of the season.

The jury is still out on Joshua Garnett, who had a good start to camp. But his play dropped off in Week 2 – perhaps because of the knee injury that required a procedure to clean up cartilage. Garnett may not be available for the start of the regular season.

Also, the 49ers may want to hold onto undrafted rookie lineman Erik Magnuson, who has a bigger upside than Beadles with youth, size and ability to play guard and center.

NT Quinton Dial
Earl Mitchell appears locked-in as the 49ers’ starting nose tackle. The 49ers also seem to have high hopes for rookie D.J. Jones. It’s unclear where that leaves Dial, who does not appear to be a great fit for the 49ers’ new 4-3 scheme.

Dial should be a starter in the NFL. But he is better-suited to be positioned in a 3-4 scheme, using his strength and power as a two-gap player rather than adapt to a one-gap scheme in which quickness and agility are the main requirements.

DE Aaron Lynch
Before sustaining an ankle injury, Lynch had done everything the 49ers wanted of him – including reporting to camp at the weight that was ordered. Lynch also looked very good in the 49ers’ exhibition opener, recording two sacks against Kansas City.

But Lynch’s spot is not guaranteed, by any means. Arik Armstead, Elvis Dumervil, Ronald Blair and rookie Pita Taumoepenu all can play similar roles. If Lynch does not eat well or maintain his conditioning while rehabbing from his ankle injury, he could erase all of the positive steps he took at the beginning of camp.

TE Vance McDonald
The onus was on McDonald at the beginning of camp to win his way onto the team. His solid play has increased his odds of a roster spot, but it is not a sure thing. This is a position where all the incumbents – McDonald, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell -- face stiff challenges.

George Kittle will definitely be on the team. Blocking specialist Logan Paulsen and rookie Cole Hikutini are also in the mix. Hikutini does not appear ready to be a contributor this season. If they waive him with hopes of placing him on the practice squad, it seems unlikely another team would claim him for their 53-man roster. But is that a chance the 49ers are willing to take?

DE Tank Carradine
Carradine appears to be on solid footing at the 49ers’ big-end position, considering he remains on the first-team defense despite the addition of Solomon Thomas, the No. 3 overall selection. But it seems to be only a matter of time before Thomas takes on a greater role. Carradine could still be kept around as a backup.

Ronald Blair, a fifth-round draft pick in 2016, was buried on the depth chart at the beginning of camp. And a pulled groin muscle that has kept him out of action for more than a week does not help is cause, either.

Anquan Boldin's higher calling and the fight for humanity

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AP

Anquan Boldin's higher calling and the fight for humanity

Anquan Boldin’s retirement from the NFL puts him on the front line of a new wave, athletes dedicated to justice and equality, a group destined to grow from dozens to hundreds and maybe even thousands.

Others are with him. Including a Cleveland Browns tight end named Seth DeValve.

In the days before Boldin announced his retirement Sunday, two significant multiethnic demonstrations took place prior to NFL preseason games. A national anthem protest by Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett, a black man who remained seated, was visibly supported by center Justin Britt, a white man. The same with two Eagles, with defensive lineman Chris Long placing one hand on the back of teammate Malcolm Jenkins, who raised his right fist.

On Monday night, one day after Boldin announced his retirement, 12 Cleveland Browns gathered behind the sideline and formed a prayer circle during the anthem. Five more stepped back and stood with them.

One of those who stood alongside, punter Britton Colquitt, is white.

Among the kneeling was DeValve, believed to be the first white player to take a knee during the anthem.

The illuminative events of Charlottesville have influenced many folks in sports and beyond to convert thoughts to action. The sight of folks with swastikas and torches brazenly marching through an American city chanting hatred and engaged in terrorism -- and subsequently receiving support from the current President -- is mobilizing athletes previously mute or nestled blissfully in ignorance.

It had been 54 years since America was subjected to such a massive, blatant and violent display of bigotry. When a white supremacist police chief in Alabama attacked peaceful protesters with snarling dogs and full-blast fire hoses in 1963, the imagery led to such national outrage that the Civil Rights Act was conceived. It was a step toward equality, if not justice.

It has been 10 days since America saw the horrors of Charlottesville, violence that came with images and resulted in at least one death and numerous injuries.

Many of those who failed to understand the depth of our injustice -- or were utterly blind to it -- are coming to grips with a historical truth among people of color that racism exists. Always has. If you have a conscience, it strikes straight to the heart.

Days after Bennett stated that the fight for racial justice among NFL players would be more effective if white players joined in, there was Britt, with a hand on Bennett’s shoulder during the anthem but also tweeting a Benjamin Franklin quote: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

And there was DeValve, suitably outraged, joining the fight.

“I wanted to support my African-American teammates today who wanted to take a knee,” said DeValve, whose wife is black. “We wanted to draw attention to the fact that there are things in this country that still need to change. I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me. And I want to do my part as well to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now.”

Prior to Charlottesville, we’d heard from three NBA coaches expressing their concerns about the direction of the country. Since Charlottesville, there has been a fourth, David Fizdale of Memphis, urging the fall of Confederate monuments. Prior to Charlottesville, we’d heard from Stephen Curry and David West, among others. Since Charlottesville, we’ve heard from Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Steve Nash.

Before Charlottesville, college football coaches were generally silent. Since Charlottesville, even southern coaches, like Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M and Jim McElwain of Florida, are finding their voices for the sake of humanity.

The Boston Red Sox are again considering changing the name of Yawkey Way, a blip of a street named after the man who owned the team for 44 years and ensured it was the last to integrate. One proposal for the renaming is David Ortiz Way, named after the Afro-Dominican slugger who achieved immense popularity in Boston.

The tragedy of Charlottesville is moving more folks in more ways than any of the law-enforcement shootings -- Ferguson, most notably -- ever did. It so touched Boldin that the longtime benefactor couldn’t resist the higher calling.

"Football has afforded me a platform throughout my career to have a greater impact on my humanitarian work, and at this time, I feel drawn to make the larger fight for human rights a priority," Boldin said in a statement to ESPN. "My life's purpose is bigger than football."

Never has a wealthy American professional athlete retired for a reason more noble than that which compelled Anquan Boldin to hang up his jersey -- not even Pat Tillman, who left the NFL for the noble reason of fighting for his country.

Boldin, stirred by the events of Charlottesville, is leaving to fight for humanity.

The statement -- “stick to sports” -- has never seemed so small and out of place, if not downright sophomoric. Boldin is not having it. And, thank goodness, there are legions of high-profile men and women who feel the same way.