This past offseason, the San Francisco 49ers acquired a new signal caller. No, not Colin Kaepernick -- I'm talking about safety Donte Whitner. During his tenure in Buffalo, Whitner made all the calls for their defense and is now being asked by San Francisco to take control of the secondary.
A lot of the problems within the team have been rooted in youth, inexperience and lack of leadership. The 49ers brought in Whitner to shore up some of those issues and insert him into a new system where he could see his best years to come, much like Justin Smith when he was acquired from Cincinnati.
There is a lot to like about Whitner and his transition to San Francisco, where he'll be competing against quarterbacks like Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb twice a year when he's used to Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez. Things could definitely slow down for him here in the NFC West and he could take advantage.
This Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, we have our first opportunity to see what Whitner is really made of. Whitner's mightiest challenge of the day will most likely come against Seattle's newly added tight end Zach Miller. Whenever there is not a linebacker assigned to him, Whitner will be the one responsible for Miller's whereabouts.
I expect the 49ers front seven to be getting a lot pressure on Jackson, in which case he will surely be looking for his safety net, Miller. When you've got a 300-plus pound lineman in your face, you're not going to be looking for Sidney Rice 35 yards down the field; you're going to be looking for your big
all-pro Pro Bowl tight end running a 5-yard dig route. Whitner needs to be there to finish the play.
They could chip away at us all day with those quick ins and outs to the tight end or tailback. Whitner is going to need to play close and be physical with Miller; he needs to get his hands on him. He cannot remove himself from the play and should instead be looking to jump the routes when Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are putting the hits on Jackson.
That is one aspect of the game that Whitner will need to secure. I am also curious to see how he is utilized differently in this system compared to Buffalo, and if it reflects on the stats sheet. I want to see if Whitner, a sure-tackler, is on the line like Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu when they are coming with a blitz or disguise. And if he is doing that, is he bumping Miller at the line to shake him off his route beforehand?
Miller could find himself targeted quite a bit this weekend, so that is an important match-up to watch. If Miller has an enormous day, we will know who partially is responsible for that mishap. Whitner is also going to be counted on as the last line of defense; preventing a long break by Leon Washington or Justin Forsett. God forbid some freakish repeat of Marshawn Lynch's famous beast-mode run against New Orleans in last years playoffs.
Miller will also be a viable option for Seattle on third down situations and that is an aspect of the game where San Francisco really needs to improve. Whitner will have to display his awareness and make sure he knows where that first down marker is and that no one crosses it. Miller is a rising star at the tight end position and could chew up the middle of the field if Whitner doesn't play well.
And there are a lot of questions to be cleared up, that we could only answer by viewing a regular season game. Is the secondary making presnap adjustments? Is the level of play by the secondary improved? Do they allow time for the pass rush? And most of all, do they avoid giving up the big play?
With all the questions in the balance, we can be sure Whitner will be captaining the secondary of Harbaugh's new installment. His level of play will be
detrimental vital to the success of the San Francisco defense, and therefor the entire team.
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