Whitt Earns Another Opportunity


(Continuing the profiles of some of the new members of the team's coaching staff, today's Packers.com feature is on secondary - cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr.)

If it took a step back in order to take two steps forward, Joe Whitt Jr. is OK with that.

The Packers new secondary - cornerbacks coach, Whitt was in a similar position two years ago as assistant defensive backs coach with the Atlanta Falcons. It was a tumultuous 2007 for the Falcons, beginning with the Mike Vick dogfighting scandal and the abrupt in-season departure of head coach Bobby Petrino.

Following that year, when Mike Smith was brought in as Atlanta's new head coach, Whitt thought he had a good chance to stick around on the staff. But when Smith brought in Alvin Reynolds - who had been Jacksonville's secondary coach for the five years Smith was the Jaguars' defensive coordinator - to coach the Atlanta defensive backs, Whitt was disappointed but understood. Having a father who was a longtime assistant coach at Auburn University, he knew that's the nature of the coaching business.

That left him with few options, one of which was dropping a wrung on the coaching totem pole and becoming a defensive quality control assistant in Green Bay. He took it, and at the time, he took the right attitude toward a job that's full of coaching grunt work, including countless hours studying and breaking down film.

"I told my father, 'This might be the best thing that ever happened to me,'" Whitt said while meeting the local media for the first time since being named to his new post. "Because it gets me away from a position and gives me the opportunity to learn football at the truest level.

"When you're sitting there actually breaking it down -- you're watching the D-line, you're watching the linebackers, you're watching how people are attacking you -- you learn it in the truest form. It was good to step away. But I just wanted to step away for a year."

Fortunately, that plan worked out for Whitt. He made such a strong impression last year in the quality control role, as well as with his additional duties assisting with the Packers' defensive backs and special teams, that Head Coach Mike McCarthy retained him during the defensive coaching purge and gave him a position to coach again.

For perspective, it didn't hurt that in Green Bay, Whitt was able to get to know several coaches who had cut their teeth in the NFL in quality control, including tight ends coach Ben McAdoo, offensive line coach James Campen, assistant head coach Winston Moss and McCarthy himself.

He had bypassed that rite of passage upon first entering the league, but he took advantage of what he was able to learn in stepping back and now feels even more ready to step into his new role.

That won't be without its challenges, though.

First, at age 30, Whitt has to maintain productive player-coach relationships with two key players at his position - Al Harris (34) and Charles Woodson (32) - who are older than he is.

Second, as cornerbacks coach Whitt has to replace Lionel Washington, a popular coach who had been the longest-tenured member of the staff, coming to Green Bay in 1999.

Both issues already have been addressed in many respects. In assisting with the defensive backs last year, Whitt broke the ice and then some with Harris and Woodson, and he earned their respect independent of any age issues.

"The thing you have to understand is these guys want to learn," said Whitt, pointing out that the situation was similar in Atlanta with (then) 34-year-old safety Lawyer Milloy, and he experienced no problems. "As long as you can teach them, and they know you know what you're talking about, they will listen and they will respond.

"With us being the same age, it's just a comfort level where we relate to different things and we understand things outside of the field. When it comes to work, it's no issue with me being 30 and them being (older)."

Laying that groundwork to their relationship also will help smooth the transition from the tutelage of Washington, a former player who related very well to all the cornerbacks, particularly veterans like Harris and Woodson.

"They didn't want to see him go, and I understood that," Whitt said. "But if the situation was that he wasn't going to be here, they wanted me to be the next guy, and I felt good with that because I understand they were close with 'Speedy,' and they should have been. He's a great guy and a good coach."

{sportsad300}All the Packers' cornerbacks - Tramon Williams, Will Blackmon, Pat Lee and Jarrett Bush included - will have an adjustment to the new 3-4 defensive scheme as well. Having played primarily bump-and-run press coverage since McCarthy's arrival in 2006, the corners will now be asked to mix in more zone coverages.

The biggest change will be in needing to see more of the field rather than just the one assigned receiver, which requires more reading of the quarterback and the overall play, to provide more immediate run support off the edge if needed.

It's no small adjustment, but Whitt cautioned it's not a major overhaul of the players' duties. And as the other defensive coaches have emphasized, the defense will have the flexibility to allow players to do what they do best, so it's not as though the in-your-face, man-to-man coverage is disappearing from the playbook.

"Woodson has the ability to do it all, and so does Al," Whitt said. "They both have the ability to do it, they just have to do it, and they're excited. I've talked to both of them and they're excited about getting started, excited about being in this style of defense, being in the 3-4 with the possibility of looking at the quarterback a little bit more. I think they're going to be fine."

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