49ers’ new ‘intern’ is a QB doctor

This is my Thursday column on George Whitfield Jr.

SANTA CLARA — Something odd happened at the 49ers’ training camp this week.

As you may know, this offseason the 49ers brought in George Whitfield Jr. He tutored Cam Newton and Andrew Luck and Johnny Manziel before each quarterback entered the NFL draft.

Whitfield is 36. He runs a quarterback academy he calls Whitfield Athletix. It’s in San Diego. Whitfield has his own website — whitfieldqb.com — where he explains what he does: “Our objective is to take the prospect’s perceived passing weakness and drive it into a strength. This could be a physical transformation such as throwing with more power or touch.”

Whitfield calls himself a Quarterback Engineer. The 49ers call him a summer intern. Last week when training camp started, I requested to interview Whitfield and a member of the 49ers’ public relations staff informed me that they don’t make interns available for interviews.

He is a special intern, I thought.

Then practices started, and it didn’t seem like Whitfield was so special, not the way the 49ers used him.

Take Tuesday. During the first portion of practice, the portion the media is allowed to film, Whitfield was a ball boy. Jim Harbaugh and quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst led a quarterback drill right in front of a couple of dozen cameras. It was a progression drill, teaching the quarterbacks how to go from their first read to their second read to their third.

The reads were stationary targets downfield. One of the targets was Donovan “Doc” Dressler, an assistant equipment manager. He was the check-down target. He stood 5 yards away from the quarterback. Whitfield was the deep target. He stood 15 yards away from the quarterback. Every few minutes, Harbaugh pointed to Whitfield and told him to move or to back up. Whitfield ended up 30 yards away from the action.

After this drill, the 49ers started their team drills and the media had to stop recording — house rules. And then something odd happened. The 49ers stopped treating Whitfield like a ball boy.

When the cameras stopped rolling, the intern became the teacher. During a special teams drill, he lined up Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert and Josh Johnson on the 15-yard line. Chryst stood quietly on the goal line and watched Whitfield work.

Whitfield had the three quarterbacks drop back and throw to the left over and over again. Throwing to the left is one of Kaepernick’s weaknesses — he threw an interception to his left in the NFC championship game against the Seahawks, and almost threw an interception to his left in the Wild Card playoff game in Green Bay, but the Packers’ defender dropped the ball.

As we learned from his website, Whitfield focuses on a quarterback’s weakness and tries to turn them into strengths. Is Whitfield here to improve Kaepernick’s weaknesses? Is that the deal? After Tuesday’s practice, I asked Kaepernick what he works on with Whitfield when the cameras aren’t rolling.

“A lot of different drills,” Kaepernick said, and left it at that. Vague.

To get an answer, I had to go to Harbaugh, the man who brought in Whitfield.

Wednesday morning after his group interview, Harbaugh lingered with me in the hallway outside of the 49ers’ new auditorium.

“The greatest share of what (Whitfield) is doing is on the field with the drills with all of the quarterbacks,” Harbaugh said. “Then, when the cameras aren’t around, he’s observing in the meeting room with the quarterback group.”

“Does he talk in the meeting room, or is he just observing?” I asked.

“Observing, but there are times that the quarterbacks talk, there are times that George will ask a question, or I will ask George a question, or George will ask Geep a question, or Geep will ask George a question.”

“Why did you want to bring in George?”

“I’ve known George for quite a while. I respect his work. All of my many conversations with him led me to believe that he would benefit from this experience and that the 49ers would benefit from this experience, specifically the quarterbacks. It could be George Whitfield making comments or talking through a technique or asking them what they felt, or it could be me pointing something out to them, or Geep or Greg Roman. Or they could ask Mike Solari a question. Or you could go up to them and suggest something to them. And they process it that quick — does that make sense to them? Does that fit their style? And they will choose to use it or not, or try it or not. I just feel that quarterbacks have a very good way about filtering. So I thought George would have something to add.”

How many interns have something to add to a franchise like the 49ers? Whitfield must be one heck of an intern.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.


This article has 19 Comments

  1. Nice read Grant. Sounds like Whitfield is really working hard to smooth out and develop Kaepernick’s game and Harbaugh wants to keep it vague for the general public. Harbaugh has shown throughout his tenure that he likes to add coaches and teachers to the staff.

    I see this as a very good thing because we all know Colin has massive untapped potential, but was very raw coming out of UNR. More focused development is good. I wonder if Colin will go to see Tom House in the future like Alex did before the 2012 season?

  2. Nice job Grant. Getting Whitfield is a great addition to the staff and should benefit the team greatly.

    It’s too bad you weren’t allowed to interview him, but maybe you could do a follow-up after the season.

  3. Grant,
    Nice job here. Sounds like Whitfield is bringing a nice added dimension to the staff. Maybe they should just go ahead and make him the QBs coach though. Sounds like he would benefit Kaepernick more than Chryst does.

  4. Good read Grant. Here’s hoping that Whitefield can become more than an ‘intern’.

    1. Will never happen because the Niners could not begin to equal the cash and the vast recognition he gets from working with different QBs and their agents.

      1. Reminds me of Red Adair. Always get more money to put out fires as a mercenary than you can get as a full time employee of any one particular company.

  5. You were able to get Harbaugh to relax and give some needed insight on prep. for QBs. Very cool!

  6. The stadium experience was pretty neat. The food situation is crazy. Yes more expensive, but what a selection. You have seafood and sushi followed by BBQ, then sausages, pizza, mexican food. There is a brewery.
    Then there is the stadium club. Well over 100 televisions. Couches, tons of seating. Game pictures of the 80’s and 90’s 49ers on the ceiling blown up. An awesome picture of Bill Walsh with the caption, ” Champions behave like champions before they are champions “.
    They have a deafening bullhorn that I am sure they will use when we score. Two giant video screens.
    MD, what did you think of it? Did you catch the Yahoo fantasy football lounge?

  7. If Whitfield can correct Kaepernick’s vision issue to the left I’ll be a happy boy.

    Sometimes a vision issue is part mechanics. I remember a BW video where he’s gong over with Montana the exact moment to turn the head on certain routes. Too early or late on a “look off” can lead to catastrophe.

  8. It sounds like the coaches want to catch teams off guard with the passing game! Obviously the running game is still the primary focus, but it’s no coincidence that Baalke goes all out (somewhat) with WRs this offseason, extends Kaep, and Harbaugh brings in an “intern” who happens to be a QB guru. The offseason keeps getting more and more exciting!

  9. Smart efficiency experts observe for quite sometime before suggesting changes. Anyone can suggest changes, but it takes skill to differentiate between when to make them and when not too.

  10. Coaching and teaching are about communicating. Not just speaking, but establishing a link between coach and player. The message has to get through, to be received and understood as intended. In my life I’ve found it’s often helpful to find several ways to say the same thing. A certain phrase will resonate with someone better than another and make a stronger connection.
    I see bringing in Whitfield as that type of approach. It’s not that he knows more than Chryst and Harbaugh, it’s about fresh eyes, a fresh approach and a new voice to explain. Mechanics and fundamentals are what they are, but this guy can apparently critique and communicate.

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