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.

Eric Reid embracing new role with 49ers: 'I was made for this position'

Eric Reid embracing new role with 49ers: 'I was made for this position'

SANTA CLARA – Despite recording seven interceptions in his first two seasons and being named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Eric Reid said he believes he is now in a role that best fits his skillset.

Whereas in the past, the 49ers’ safety positions were considered interchangeable, there is a clear delineation this season under first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

“Even dating back to college, this is the first time there’s a distinct strong (safety) and a distinct free (safety),” Reid said. “I’ve been used to the interchangeability type of role.

“(In) some situations, certain calls where there’s a motion, we might flip. There are a couple situations where I might be in the post in the free-safety role, but it’s not nearly as much as it has been in the past.”

Reid, who is listed at 6 foot 1, 213 pounds, said he is excited to be stationed closer to the line of scrimmage for run support while free safety Jimmie Ward patrols the deep middle of the field.

The 49ers offseason program concluded Wednesday, and Reid found himself in the middle of the action with an interception on a short Brian Hoyer pass over the middle. While he will still be counted upon for coverage, his biggest impact could come to assist a run defense that last season ranked among the worst in NFL history.

“I love it, being around the ball more,” Reid said. “I anticipate making more tackles, hopefully making more plays. I feel like I was made for this position with my body type, being a bigger safety. I’m excited about this year.

“I feel like I’m using what God has blessed me with, more, which is my size and being in the box in the run game. In the past, I felt like I could do more. And being in the post, I can’t use my size as much when it comes to the run game.”

After producing seven interceptions in his first two seasons, Reid recorded just one interception in 26 games over the past two seasons.

As a first-round pick in 2013, the 49ers picked up the fifth-year option this season for $5.676 million. He is scheduled for unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of the season. Reid said the 49ers have not spoken to his representation about a long-term extension. That will come, he believes, if he lives up to his end of the bargain in his new, streamlined role.

“I look at it from a business standpoint,” Reid said. “I majored in business. They have me under contract. They don’t have any reason to talk to right now. I imagine if I play well in the first half of the season, they’ll reach out to me. Maybe they’ll reach out to me before training camp, I don’t know. It’s whatever route they decide to take. It’s a business. I’ll treat it as a business. I have a job to do, so I’ll do it.”

 

Mike Shanahan's official role with 49ers: Father of head coach

Mike Shanahan's official role with 49ers: Father of head coach

SANTA CLARA – Kyle Shanahan always wanted to coach football with his father. But, first, he knew he had to prove himself without any boost from his well-known dad.

Once the son established himself as one of the NFL’s respected offensive minds, the Shanahans teamed up for four up-but-mostly-down seasons with Washington.

Mike, the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach, hired his son to serve as his top offensive assistant in 2010.

“I thought we saw football similar, but we quickly realized after a few weeks that we saw it differently,” Kyle Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area in February. “We grew together. He gave me a lot of leeway while I was there. It was fun to try a bunch of different things, having to even incorporate the zone read when we got Robert (Griffin).

“We did our deal in Washington, and I wouldn’t take that back for the world, but that was pretty much the end of it.”

Kyle Shanahan broke into the coaching ranks under Karl Dorrell at UCLA. He moved onto the NFL to work with Jon Gruden on the staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Gary Kubiak with the Houston Texans. But nothing prepared him for the scrutiny he would face as offensive coordinator under his father.

Kyle Shanahan adjusted the Washington offense to take advantage of Griffin’s skills as a dual-threat quarterback as a rookie 2012. The club qualified for the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

But things blew up the following season as the Mike Shanahan-Griffin relationship soured. Shanahan and eight assistant coaches, including Kyle, were fired the morning after Washington’s 3-13 season concluded.

Mike Shanahan has remained out of coaching, though he was a finalist for the 49ers’ head-coaching job after the 2015 season. The 49ers hired Chip Kelly.

Kyle Shanahan rebuilt his career with one season as offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns and two successful seasons with the Atlanta Falcons to enable him to become CEO Jed York’s choice to replace Kelly.

There is no official role for Mike Shanahan, 64, on his son’s staff with the 49ers. But the father has attended several of the team’s practices this offseason, including both days of the 49ers’ mandatory minicamp this week. Mike has been issued his own iPad that gives him access to the 49ers playbook and coach's film. He will likely visit for an extended stay during training camp. But Kyle said he believes his dad will mostly remain home -- only a phone call away -- during the regular season.

“He’s enjoying life right now,” said Kyle, 37. “He’s got a pretty good deal in Denver, where he lives. He can help me out in other ways anyways without having to be here every day.”

Mike Shanahan does not need to be in the building every day to counsel and have influence on his son as he tries to navigate his first season as the head coach while also maintaining the responsibilities of running the team’s offense.

“You’re going 1,000 miles an hour,” Kyle Shanahan said. “Sometimes to see everything you’ve got to really slow things down and take your time to look at stuff and you don’t always have that time as a head coach.

“It’s nice when someone you know who thinks similar to you has a similar background and he just sits in a room all day and watches stuff. He doesn’t have any other responsibilities. He can see some things that I’m not always seeing and just to bring things to light that maybe I missed or other people have missed.”

Mike Shanahan was a successful NFL offensive coordinator for seven seasons. He won a Super Bowl on George Seifert’s staff with the 49ers in January 1995. His dad believes his time around the 49ers has a lasting impact.

“When I was with San Francisco, Kyle was at the 49ers training camps in Rocklin,” Mike Shanahan told Fangirl Sports Network. “He stayed with me at camp and we talked about football every night.

“He had the opportunity to experience an organization that had won four Super Bowls in nine years. He also had the opportunity to be around some great people and leaders. He still tells stories and talks about people like Steve Young, Joe Montana, Harris Barton, Tom Rathman, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Deion Sanders, and many others. What a great experience to see how these men handled themselves on and off the field.”

The Denver Broncos hired him to become head coach shortly after the 49ers’ 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. Shanahan went on to win two Super Bowls in his 14 seasons with the Broncos.

Kyle Shanahan was a wide receiver at Duke before finishing college at Texas, where he caught 14 passes for 127 yards in two seasons. He figured he would have a career in football and it would not be as a player.

“I’ve wanted to coach my whole life,” Kyle Shanahan said. “This is all I’ve known, just growing up around football. It’s almost all I’ve been into, too. Since I was little, it’s distracted me from everything I’ve done, especially school. I always tried to tell my mom, ‘Just be patient, it’ll play out for us in the long run.’ Fortunately, it did.

“Once I realized my genes were a little bit better as a coach than as a player, I pretty much locked into that – and that was about halfway through college. I haven’t looked back.”

During his short time with the 49ers, players on both sides of the ball have expressed amazement at how knowledgeable Kyle Shanahan is about the game of football. His dad told Fangirl Sports Network to succeed as a head coach he must always be dedicated to stuyding, learning and teaching the sport.

“He loves the game and knows it inside and out,” Mike Shanahan said. “My advice to him is to never lose the drive to study the game as he’s done over the last 13 years. To stay in the NFL as a head coach and have success for any length of time, you must never lose your drive to teach and stay abreast of what the top teams are doing every year: offense, defense, special teams. You must be able to coach all positions to really understand the whole game.”

Former 49ers president Carmen Policy said he remembers young Kyle serving as a ball boy during 49ers training camp in the early 1990s. Policy, who remains close to Mike Shanahan, has followed Kyle’s rise in the coaching ranks while playfully questioning the sanity of the family business.

Said Policy: “I used to tease Mike, ‘What kind of father are you to let your kid go into coaching?’ I said, ‘You should be charged with dereliction of parental duty.’ And he’d laugh and say, ‘Yeah, I tried talking to him and then my wife tried talking to him, but that’s his passion, and that’s what he wants to do, so I’m not going to dissuade him from it.’

“And, then, look at what happened. Here he is. He’s the head coach of the 49ers, and that’s just incredible.”