Donte Whitner was not the flashiest free agent acquisition this offseason but I've got a good mind to say that Whitner means more to the San Francisco 49ers than Nnamdi Asomugha does for the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have had pretty decent play from the secondary with Asante Samuel, Dmitri Patterson and an emerging Nate Allen. But this year, they ante'd up by adding Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and free agency prize Nnamdi Asomugha.
The 49ers proceeded to add talent at multiple positions rather than betting the house on Asomugha. In the long run, which is how the front office was probably thinking, it was for the best. Whitner is a hard hitting, playmaking safety from a bullied team in a rock em' sock em' division known as the AFC East. The former Buffalo Bill finished last season with an astounding 140 tackles, fifth in the league, behind only inside linebackers.
Whitner, 26, signed a three-year, $11.75 million contract to come crack skulls for the 49ers in a wide open NFC West. The reason for the constant assault on San Francisco's secondary by opposing teams year after year was because of the vulnerability in experience. It was known league-wide that the 49ers secondary was soft; especially in comparison to their fierce run defense which has been a consistent top 10. Whitner expects to immediately inhabit the physical as well as vocal presence the Niners need.
The 5'10" safety looks forward to taking command of a young secondary while continuing to get better himself. His strengths have been as a tackler, especially in run support, however he is looking to improve as a "ball hawk." He seems to have more of a nose for the ball when it's on the ground, rather than when it's in the air.
The coaches are going to have Whitner all over the field; parallel with the line, in the box, single high, etcetera. The man is a heatseeking missile so the coaches are going to want to position him where the action is. Dick LeBeau incorporates the same ideals by mobilizing Troy Polamalu in and out of every which position. And it's been said, Vic Fangio's system will come from the Dom Capers (Green Bay Packers)/Dick LeBeau (Pittsburgh Steelers) scheme of defense.
Whitner is going to bring great things to the organization and judging by his recent Tweets, he couldn't be happier to be a 49er. He seems enthusiastic about the defensive system Fangio is installing and looks forward to being utilized in ways previous systems prevented. The 8th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft is still young with the potential to become a complete safety and game-changer for the 49ers.
In addition to Whitner, the secondary-needy 49ers brought in Carlos Rogers, Madieu Williams, re-signed Dashon Goldson and drafted Chris Culliver to all compete for starting jobs. Out of the group, Whitner should prove himself to be the most valuable addition right away. In Buffalo, Whitner was a captain and leader on and off the field -- when he spoke, people listened.
The expected starter has been receiving high remarks at camp on a fairly consistent basis, which is great news for Niners fans. Whitner should be a punishing tackler from day one and hopefully develops into the Ed Reed to Patrick Willis' Ray Lewis. It is critical for a defense to be talented in the middle (NT, ILB, S). The front seven has been coming together at camp, but with a brand new secondary, we do not yet know what to expect.
Whitner should alleviate some of those worries because if he were a New England Patriot or Pittsburgh Steeler, he would've been a Pro Bowler last year. Hopefully, Whitner will be able to duplicate and improve on his already high-caliber play in the bay area. His addition to San Francisco was clearly overshadowed by other big name acquisitions but he might be one of the most impactful to the team that signed him. Philadelphia obviously didn't learn anything from the Miami Heat; you can't buy championships.
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