While Donte Whitner Sr. began the NFL season watching games on his couch, he has now found success as a starting safety for the Redskins and as a team leader.
Less than a month ago, Donte Whitner Sr. was sitting at home on Sundays. Now he is co-starting strong safety for the Washington Redskins.
It's amazing how quickly things changed for the 11-year veteran who played his first game as a Redskins starter in the loss to the Lions in Week 7. The waiting that he went through in the offseason to get to this place was tough, but he is more than content with his landing spot.
"It was a little difficult, now knowing where you're going to be, not knowing if the training that you're actually doing is going to really translate to the football field," Whitner Sr. said. "So it was a little hectic, but you go through things, you go through adversity and then you make it work."
And making it work is something he is certainly excelling at. In the game against the Lions, Whitner Sr. had a team-high eight tackles and played every single defensive snap, which totaled 53 plays in Detroit.
The team has slowly been building the amount of time that Whitner Sr. sees on the field, and through his play last week it is clear that the defense now fully believes in his ability to do his job well despite joining the team midway through the season.
When asked if Whitner Sr. was indeed the official starter at head coach Jay Gruden's press conference on Wednesday before traveling to London, he was unable to deny Whitner Sr.'s status on the team.
"If he played every snap, I guess," Gruden said with a smile. "Hard for me to say no. Yeah."
Whitner Sr.'s assessment of his own ease in the current defense fits well with where Gruden is currently evaluating him. Despite the amount of time he missed out on, it seems he now is finding his stride.
The Washington Redskins on Wednesday signed 10-year veteran safety Donte Whitner. Take a look at his NFL career in photos.
"It's working out pretty good. I have the system down packed," Whitner Sr. said. "I have my football lungs working. I feel like I'm in football shape now. Just about getting out there, continuing to study the film, practice and go out there and win games."
He was not signed as a free agent by the Redskins until Oct. 5, because of injury problems for Washington, with the team having to place David Bruton Jr. on Injured Reserve and the timing of Whitner Sr.'s release by his hometown Cleveland Browns, where he played for two seasons, at the very end of the free agency signing period. The timing left Whitner Sr. without a landing spot on an NFL team as the season began for the first time in his extensive career.
He knew that he was more than good enough to play in the NFL, yet he remained at home, which was a very difficult thing to experience especially as he felt he was better than many guys out there on the fields around the country.
"Absolutely, you do (think about that)," Whitner Sr. said. "But teams have their rosters set. The way I was released by Cleveland, I understood that it was late, so I knew that I would have to wait a little bit, which I was okay with. Now I'm here and looking forward to playing and winning games."
Helping the team be successful is something that he should be able to do rather well, especially with the amount of experience he has and can share with the other players. In his career, Whitner has 627 total tackles, 53 passes defended, 11 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles. So far this year, he has 12 combined tackles through three games and his numbers will only go up from here. While it may have taken some time to find his place, it looks like Whitner Sr. is finally in a role that looks like it will benefit both him and the Redskins.
"Playing defense in this league for 10 previous years, it wasn't about learning the defense," Whitner Sr. said. "I've played every type of scheme possible in the National Football League, just the terminology. Really just studying the terminology for a few days and pretty much have it down packed (now) knowing the moves of the defense. I feel pretty good with my role in this defense. My role is to communicate, help get guys lined up, tackle well, make plays on the football and ultimately boils down to winning football games."