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.

Mailbag: Are 49ers trying to win or develop players?

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AP

Mailbag: Are 49ers trying to win or develop players?

After five consecutive close losses and some reason for optimism, it all came crashing down for the 49ers on Sunday.

Rookie Trent Taylor fumbled a punt just one minute into the game. Ninety seconds later, the Dallas Cowboys scored.

And it was over.

The Cowboys steamrolled the 49ers, 40-10, providing a slap across the face to anyone who believed this rebuild of the franchise was trending consistently upward without any complications.

The team appeared to be moving along harmoniously. But on Sunday, there was an incident in which Jaquiski Tartt, Ahkello Witherspoon and Ray-Ray Armstrong were seen jawing at each other. Things got heated. The optics in a home blowout loss were not good.

There are plenty of questions, and here are some of the questions from The Day After that were submitted on our Facebook page:

What is the philosophy? Are we trying to win or develop players? Cause it seems you can't do both? (Frank Vega)
The 49ers are definitely trying to develop players. They are also trying to evaluate players. They are looking to the future, and they are not deploying a win-at-all-cost approach this season. They do not want to win an extra game or two this season at the expense of possibly making the team worse for the future.

That is why the 49ers, almost invariably, went with younger players at any position in which there was competition . . . Eli Harold over Ahmad Brooks; Trent Taylor over Jeremy Kerley; Raheem Mostert over Tim Hightower; etc.

It’s why the 49ers made the decision two weeks ago to part ways with NaVorro Bowman, who had expressed dissatisfaction over his reduced role. Bowman was still the 49ers’ best linebacker at the time. But he would not have been on the team next year, so the decision was made to release Bowman now and go with the other less-accomplished players. (The Raiders, by the way, say 'Thank you.')

Rookie C.J. Beathard is now the starting quarterback. Cole Hikutini has moved into the No. 2 role at tight end behind fellow rookie George Kittle. Ahkello Witherspoon is being weaved into the action at cornerback, splitting time with Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson.

The 49ers did not want to create a mirage. They did not want to win any games this season that would be the result of a veteran rent-a-player approach. In that respect, the 49ers have succeeded. The 49ers will be picking near the top of every round in the 2018 draft.

The risk, of course, is that the young players get beaten down so badly that they lose their confidence and their edge.

What do you make of Eric Reid’s move to LB? Is his time with Niners nearing the end? (Peter Chan)
The 49ers no longer use a “nickel” defense. They go straight from their base defense to six defensive backs whenever the opposition puts more than two wide receivers on the field. It’s not a true linebacker position Reid is playing. It’s considered more of a “big nickel," designed to give the 49ers more speed on third downs to cover and run to the ball.

Reid is no longer a starter. What it shows is that the 49ers are sold on Jaquiski Tartt being a long-term answer for the 49ers secondary. The 49ers view Tartt and Jimmie Ward as the starters for 2018. All things being equal, Reid will have a chance to go somewhere else next season and be a starter.

The 49ers are not committed to re-signing him on a deal that extends beyond this season.

Is it a coincidence that the two worst teams in the NFL have the most cap space? (Gary Staebler)
That is no coincidence at all. It is the very reason the Cleveland Browns and 49ers are the only two winless teams in the NFL.

The Browns have $61.6 million in cap space. The 49ers are currently $61 million under the cap. Next year, with carryovers of unused space, the 49ers and Browns are projected to both have more than $117 million in cap room, according to Overthecap.com.

Bad teams do not draft well.

Teams that do not draft well, do not sign their draft picks to lucrative second contracts.

Therefore, teams that do not draft well cannot spend a large portion of their cap space to retain their own players because they have no good players worth retaining.

49ers snap count: Reid no longer starter; rookies see more time on offense

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USATI

49ers snap count: Reid no longer starter; rookies see more time on offense

Veteran safety Eric Reid returned from a knee injury that kept him out three games to discover he lost his starting job.

Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt has continued to serve as an every-down player for the 49ers’ defense. On Sunday, Reid played 48 snaps (64 percent) as the 49ers employed six defensive backs against the Dallas Cowboys three-receiver sets.

The 49ers had to adjust their sub package after nickel back K’Waun Williams sustained a hip injury. Rookie Adrian Colbert entered the game at safety with Jimmie Ward taking over Williams’ role. Colbert played 29 snaps.

Newly signed defensive linemen Leger Douzable and Tony McDaniel saw a lot of action in their 49ers debuts. Douzable played the third-most of any defensive lineman (behind Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner), seeing action on 47 of the team’s 75 snaps. McDaniel played 25 snaps.

On offense, the 49ers appear to be making a point to go with younger players. Rookie Cole Hikutini played 21 snaps, taking over as the No. 2 tight end over Garrett Celek and Logan Paulsen.

Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, another undrafted rookie, played a season-high 23 snaps. On fourth-and-4 from the Dallas 28 early in the third quarter, coach Kyle Shanahan decided to go for it instead of kicking a 46-yard field goal. Bourne was the intended target. But he stumbled after a spin move from the slot, and C.J. Beathard’s pass was incomplete.

“As I was throwing the ball he tripped,” Beathard said. “If he hadn’t tripped on a DB’s feet or whatever happened there, it would’ve been a big play.”

Here is a look at the 49ers’ playing time on offense, defense and special teams:

OFFENSE
(66 plays)
Quarterback – C.J. Beathard 66
Running back – Carlos Hyde 51, Matt Breida 15
Wide receiver – Pierre Garçon 46, Trent Taylor 46, Marquise Goodwin 39, Aldrick Robinson 30, Kendrick Bourne 23
Tight end – George Kittle 31, Cole Hikutini 21, Garrett Celek 18, Logan Paulsen 11
Offensive line – Joe Staley 66, Daniel Kilgore 66, Laken Tomlinson 66, Brandon Fusco 52, Trent Brown 45, Garry Gilliam 20, Zane Beadles 14

DEFENSE
(75 plays)
Defensive line – Solomon Thomas 61, DeForest Buckner 50, Leger Douzable 47, Earl Mitchell 38, Xavier Cooper 26, D.J. Jones 25, Tony McDaniel 25, Elvis Dumervil 15
Linebacker – Reuben Foster 53, Eli Harold 31, Ray-Ray Armstrong 27, Brock Coyle 22, Dekoda Watson 9
Cornerback – Dontae Johnson 63, Rashard Robinson 51, Ahkello Witherspoon 35, K’Waun Williams 20
Safety – Jaquiski Tartt 75, Jimmie Ward 75, Eric Reid 48, Adrian Colbert 29

SPECIAL TEAMS
(24 plays)
Elijah Lee 21, Coyle 21, Raheem Mostert 16, Celek 15, Colbert 16, Witherspoon 15, Breida 14, Harold 12, Hikutini 12, Armstrong 10, Tartt 10, Bradley Pinion 9, Jones 8, R.Robinson 8, Ward 8, Johnson 7, Kyle Nelson 6, Buckner 6, Thomas 6, Paulsen 6, Reid 5, Mitchell 5, Douzable 4, A.Robinson 3, Taylor 3, Robbie Gould 2, Foster 2, Staley 2, Kilgore 2, Gilliam 2, Beadles 2, Tomlinson 1, Fusco 1, Brown 1, Dumervil 1, Watson 1, Williams 1

DID NOT PLAY
QB Brian Hoyer

INACTIVE
WR Victor Bolden
DB Dexter McCoil
FB Kyle Juszczyk (back)
LB Mark Nzeocha
LB Pita Taumoepenu
DL Aaron Lynch (calf)
OL Erik Magnuson