SANTA CLARA – Rejoice! Here’s ten minutes more of Donte Whitner’s Thursday group interview that you didn’t even know existed.
Q: Do you have a sense Harbaugh always has your back?
WHITNER: “Yeah, and those are the head coaches that you like. Like Rex Ryan, he will never throw his players under the bus and he puts all the pressure on himself. Coach Harbaugh does the same thing. A lot of coaches when they don’t want the pressure on them, don’t want the hands pointed at them or the media to turn on them, they put things out to the media that really shouldn’t be out there. ‘Oh, this guy should have made this play or he should have done this.’ That stuff never works and players really understand that and locker rooms understand that. If you do something negative coach is really going to put you out there in the media. I went through that in Buffalo with Chan Gailey. He would do that all the time. We didn’t understand why he would do that, it wasn’t making us better. It wasn’t helping us on the football field or helping us reach our goal. It really doesn’t help. The only thing it does is turn the finger pointing off of you and put it on the players. Guys don’t like to play for coaches like that.”
Q: How does he air you out when needed?
WHITNER: “He’ll come to you personally and tell you, or your position coach will tell you. He doesn’t go and point fingers in the media and he doesn’t point fingers in front of the team. He says it one-on-one and he gets the point across.”
Q: Whitner on brother Dawawn, former Ohio St player who had to stop football because of Diabetes I diagnosis about 2 1/2 years ago
WHITNER: “He really didn’t know. He was home and eating anything and everything. A defensive tackle, he almost fainted or something and he found out he had Type I diabetes. He lost about 150 pounds. He’s doing a little better now and he’s trying to get back into school. He ain’t playing. Defensive tackles, those are big guys. I think he was over 300 pounds. I think he’s smaller than me now. That’s kind of weird. He’s doing good, his health is doing good. He played for Ohio State for a while but once he lost all that weight he had to end that.”
Q: Do you play for him?
WHITNER: “I play for him. I play for a lot of my family – my mom, my grandma they passed away who really raised me. I play for all of them and they enjoy coming to watch. They’ll be here. It will be my first playoff game and it will be their first playoff game watching me, so it will be special.”
Q: What’s been the transformation for this defense?
WHITNER: “I think it’s a combination of the players who have already been here, the guys they brought in and drafted on the defensive side of the ball have been tremendous – NaVorro and Patrick and Justin came over eight years ago in free agency and you have younger guys coming in like Aldon and you mix some free agents in and have good communication – and have a good secondary or a secondary that’s going to go out there and compete and play and communicate and not blow coverages – that’s half the battle right there. There are so many teams in the National Football League who can’t even get lined up. You have guys running free. So that’s half the battle right there, fixing the secondary. The other guys have been here, so having a secondary with guys who are veterans, being able to get lined up first and foremost, understand the calls and then being physical and getting turnovers. That makes you into a good defense.”
Q: You guys play a retro style opposed to Green Bay or New Orleans and the weight of winning the game is often on your defense, how comfortable are you with that?
WHITNER: “We’re very comfortable with that. We understand that each and every game you might see things during the week but when it comes down to crunch time in a football game, coaches have to make decisions, players have to make decisions to get it done and win the football game. We understand that going into it, they say, ‘Our offense and this.’ It really doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is we come to the fourth quarter and where are we, what do we need to win the football game and what do we need to do to win the football game and can we get it done? That’s what it comes down to each and every week in the National Football League. Scheme doesn’t really matter at that point. It’s really about which team wants it more in the fourth quarter if it’s close and what do we have to do to get it and can we get it done. That’s what we’ve been doing all year long. A lot of our wins aren’t pretty but they’re wins. You ask any coach in the National Football League if he’ll take a bunch of ugly wins or a bunch of pretty losses and I guarantee they pick ugly wins every time. It doesn’t really matter. The only thing that matters is that fourth quarter and can we get it done.”
Q: The turnover differential for you guys has been huge … is that good fortune or preparation or both?
WHITNER: “Well, it’s preparation. A lot of times when guys get their hands on footballs out there it’s something we’ve seen throughout the week. You get a couple overthrows or a couple tips but a lot of them are guys really knowing the route and jumping the route, really knocking the ball away or really making a conscious effort knocking the balls out – fumbles – with Justin and Larry – those are game-winning plays that are conscious efforts. They weren’t just making a tackle and the ball popped out. They saw the ball and they punched the ball out in those two games, those two wins. Conscious effort to want to get that football, want to get it done, and we’ve been able to do it.”
Q: Trent Baalke took some heat for not making a splash in free agency … vindicated?
WHITNER: “Now it’s a splash. It’s not a splash when everybody else is looking. But once you make the playoffs and you’re sitting at home with a bye week and you have an opportunity to win two games and be in the Super Bowl, then it’s a splash. That’s how success happens. A lot of times, people aren’t going to believe until they actually see it. Now they actually see. Now it’s a splash. We’ve come here, we’ve contributed. He did a good job of bringing in free agents and he did a good job of drafting guys who contribute right now. In my opinion, I don’t know about everybody else, he should be exec of the year. We’ll see if that happens. Everybody he’s brought in, except for maybe one, and every rookie has really contributed to this football team and has really helped us win football games. And I don’t know of any other team around the National Football League that’s done that.”
Q: Have you guys shown there’s no need for a superstar?
WHITNER: “Superstars are made once you win football games and once you win Super Bowls and once people really get the opportunity to watch you in national games to understand who you are and hear your name and hear your name and hear your name. That’s how superstars are made. Patrick Willis has been a superstar on this football team for years but he hasn’t won and he hasn’t had a chance to be on a national stage and really show what he can do with everybody in the world watching. So now he gets that opportunity and now he can become a superstar if you go out and win a Super Bowl and play well. That’s how it happens: Winning creates superstars. Losing doesn’t.”
Q: What transformation have you seen in Alex?
WHITNER: “He’s taken charge of the offense. He’s not afraid to go out there and put his head down and get the extra yards and do the things that are tough. A lot of quarterbacks don’t want to be hit, they don’t want to be physical. Again, when it comes down to it, Alex, if we need six or seven yards, what are you going to do to get us six or seven yards to win the football game – are you going to use your feet, use your arm? He’s been doing that. People might say something about his stats or he’s not like Aaron Rodgers or the rest of the guys but he’s winning football games and he’s not turning the ball over. He’s only got five interceptions on the entire football season – there’s not many guys who can say that, I think that’s tied for an NFL record. That’s what he’s doing, he’s not turning it over, he’s checking at the line getting them in good run situations, good pass situations and taking care of the ball. That’s all we can ask for. On defense we all do our jobs. Alex don’t turn it over and we get points and we do our job on defense and we’ll be pretty hard to beat.
“In the fourth quarter when the defense is over there looking at the Jumbotron and you know it’s third-and-seven, you see Alex take off and pick up a first down and keep the chains moving, you appreciate that, and he’s been doing a good job of that.”
Q: Do you guys want to play hard for a guy like Harbaugh?
WHITNER: “Yeah, you get the team collectively playing hard for the coach instead of just a couple guys in a couple spurts, and that’s the difference. When you see somebody really cares about you as a person and your personal life, it’s easy to go out there and put it on the line for somebody like that, but when you don’t have a coach like that, it’s hard to go out there and stick your neck in and really do everything as if he really cared about you, because some of them don’t and you can really tell.”