SANTA CLARA – Donte Whitner spoke about everything from Randy Moss to the Saints’ bounty scandal this afternoon. Here’s what Whitner said:
Q: Did the level of practice intensity go up a notch when the pads went on?
WHITNER: Yeah, I think that’s natural. Whenever you have a bunch of competitive guys who want to get better, once the pads go on the intensity will be automatic. You don’t even have to try to do it. Running backs are going to come through and lower the shoulder. You have a defensive line and linebackers who don’t want the ball carrier to even have the feel of running through the defense.
Q: When Frank Gore comes through and lowers his shoulder, how do you respond?
WHITNER: We really try to take care of the guys, but sometimes Frank does lower the shoulder. You come through on a blitz; he wants to give you a little bit of shoulder. You have to pick and choose your times with them. The majority of the other guys, we just want to make them better, put a hit on them, strip that football from them – we just want to challenge them. That’s what we’ve been doing.
Q: You’ve got a whole host of young safeties playing behind you and Dashon Goldson. What is your role as a mentor or a coach?
WHITNER: We really don’t have a lot of experience behind me and Dashon, so it’s our responsibility to help the guys behind us. There’s a difference between being in practice and hearing what the coaches say versus going into a football game and having the confidence that you know what to do and how to get it done.
Q: What do you see from sixth round pick safety Trenton Robinson so far?
WHITNER: He’s a very smart guy. Similar stature to myself. There are just some things that young guys don’t know yet: anticipating what’s coming on the football field, understanding your responsibility, understanding someone else’s responsibility and help them. I think he’s going to be able to pick it up. He has the speed, the quickness, the toughness and the smarts to be a player in this league. It’s really going to be up to him whether he makes it or not because he has all the tools.
Q: How does Randy Moss look?
WHITNER: He looks the same. He’s always been a long-strider. It never really looked like he was running fast until you see him create separation on a DB and throw that hand up and look for the deep one. He’s doing those same things. There have been times out there where he’s running wide open and the ball didn’t even reach him. They tried to get the football to him, but it just didn’t reach him. I still believe that he has everything and more. I say, “and more” because he’s very determined to show that he’s still Randy Moss and can still run past guys and still score touchdowns. With that added motivation I believe he’s in for a big year.
Q: How do you and Goldson complement each other as safeties?
WHITNER: We’re not the same type of football player. He’s more of a center fielder, deep-half type of guy, wants to take chances and get the football but he’ll still hit you. My job is to get the majority of the guys lined up, to play extremely physical, add in to the run and cover tight ends. It’s easy to work with someone who wants to work with you.
Q: Was it a relief to you when he showed up on time to camp?
WHITNER: It was a relief to everybody. He could have waited an entire month until training camp was over. Nobody really wants to go through training camp. He’s not really wrong for not signing his tender and showing up late. He just showed that he’s a very unselfish guy. He’s really a team player. With the uncertainty of the National Football League, you could walk out on the field right now, backpedal and plant and blow your knee out. He wants a long-term deal. Who doesn’t want a long-term deal? But to come in here and take that risk sends a message to the coaching staff and his teammates that he’s here to win football games, he understands that he’s going to face some elite quarterbacks early on, and to get in and work says a lot about him.
Q: You had one of the most memorable hits last season, the one against Pierre Thomas of the Saints. How often do people bring that up to you?
WHITNER: Almost every day no matter where I go. It’s just the nature of a good defensive football team. Everybody on this defense including second- and third-teamers will stick their nose in there and take one for the team, or try to deliver a blow or play physical. To be a good defense you have to have that. I’m not happy that he was injured on the play, but I was happy that I was able to deliver a big blow and get the football for our team because who knows what would have happened (had they scored?) Our confidence could have gotten a little shaken if we let Drew Brees go down and score on the first drive. You don’t know how the game would have turned out.
Q: What do you think of the juxtaposition that you had the big hit against the Saints, and then all the stuff that came out later about what happened in the defensive meeting room the night before that game on the Saints’ side?
WHITNER: Very ironic, because we don’t have to talk like that around here. For a defensive coordinator to come up and talk about injuring players and knocking out players from the game, you don’t have to do that if you have the right type of guys in that room. All Coach Vic (Fangio) says is we have to go out there and play physical football, we have to stop the run, we have stop these certain players from beating us and running through our defense. If you have the right type of guys in that room, you don’t have to set bounties and pay more for guys to play physical and hard. It’s going to come naturally.
Q: What’s the tone in a Vic Fangio meeting room the night before a game?
WHITNER: Believe it or not, he’s very calm. You can appreciate that, because some guys get into that moment the night before a game, the day of the game and really we don’t know who they are. They’ve changed into another person because they’re as nervous or even more nervous than the players are. You don’t see that with Coach Vic.