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.

Kirk Cousins watches Kyle Shanahan's offense carve up Packers

Kirk Cousins watches Kyle Shanahan's offense carve up Packers

Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. His uncertain status has led to speculation presumptive 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan will be interested in acquiring him in the offseason.

On Sunday, Cousins got a first-hand look at his former coach’s offense.

Cousins posted a photo on Instagram from the stands at the Georgia Dome, where the Atlanta Falcons and their high-octane offense blasted the Green Bay Packers, 44-21, in the NFC Championship game.

Cousins wrote the caption, “Watching two of the best in the world do what they do & taking notes to make it to this game next year -score a lot of points!”

Washington finished third in the NFC East and out of the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record.

Shanahan, the Falcons’ offensive coordinator, coached Cousins for the first two seasons of his NFL career with Washington on the staff of his father, Mike Shanahan. Cousins appeared in just eight games with four starts in 2012 and ’13.

Cousins' career has taken off in the past two seasons while starting all 32 regular-season games. He completed 67 percent of his passes this season with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and a passer rating of 97.2.

Washington placed the franchise tag on Cousins this season at nearly $20 million. He franchise tag is expected to be approximately $24 million in 2017.

If Washington places the non-exclusive franchise tag on Cousins, a team could sign him to an offer sheet at the cost of two first-round draft picks or negotiate a trade with Washington for a lesser amount.

Conflicting reports over Tomsula to Washington

Conflicting reports over Tomsula to Washington

Former 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula reportedly might be back in the NFL after a one-year hiatus.

Tomsula, who spent his first eight NFL seasons as a defensive line coach, could be returning to that job with Washington, Carol Maloney of NBC4 reported on Sunday. But according to the Washington Post, a deal is not done between the two sides.

If the deal were to happen Tomsula would be rejoining Washington defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and general manager Scot McCloughan, both of whom he worked with while members of the 49ers organization.

Tomsula was promoted to the head-coaching job over finalist Adam Gase two years ago after the 49ers' “mututal parting” with coach Jim Harbaugh. Tomsula was fired after the 49ers went 5-11 in 2015. Chip Kelly was hired to replace Tomsula. Kelly was fired after the 49ers went 2-14, including a franchise-worst 13-game losing streak.