One key defensive player the 49ers don’t need to worry about re-signing this offseason is strong safety Donte Whitner, who came to San Francisco as a free agent last August.
Whitner, who played five seasons with the Buffalo Bills after playing at Ohio State, signed a three-year deal with the 49ers worth a reported $11.5 million.
Whitner came to the Niners with a reputation for making big hits, and lived up to the billing. In a safety tandem with Dashon Goldson – now an unrestricted free agent whom the Niners may put the franchise tag on – Whitner was part of a retooled secondary that evolved into one of the team’s strengths in a 13-3 regular season.
Now taking classes at San Jose State to finish his degree, Whitner, 26, already is looking forward to his second season with the 49ers. On Tuesday, he appeared on the NFL Network’s “Total Access” show and talked about his hopes for 2012 and the sting he still feels about the overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park.
After the loss to the Giants in January, Whitner told the San Francisco Chronicle he expects the defensive scheme to be more complex in 2012 because coordinator Vic Fangio was unable to install his entire system in 2011 because of the labor issues that prevented players from contact with coaches.
“There were a lot of things we left out of our playbook because it was too complicated,” Whitner said then.
On Tuesday, Whitner elaborated.
“With a good offseason, OTAs to learn all the small nuances of the defense and offense going into training camp, we could be better,” he said at the NFL Network’s offices in Culver City. “It could be hard to duplicate, but we could have a really good football season again.”
Whitner – who had 62 tackles, a forced fumble, two interceptions and 10 passes defensed in the regular season before delivering a crushing hit on Saints running back Pierre Thomas that forced a fumble in the playoff victory over the Saints – says the loss to the Giants still hurts.
“It’s a very hard pill to swallow, especially when you beat a team in the regular season and prepare like we did going into that game,” Whitner told Steve Wyche of NFL.com. “We felt like we had a great opportunity to win that game to go to the Super Bowl – and for it to end the way it did, with a special teams turnover. … We felt like we were playing really well on defense in the second half and to lose a game like that is really tough.”
Whitner told Wyche that after beating the Saints, the 49ers believed they would beat the Giants and go to the Super Bowl.
“We were wrong,” he told Wyche. “The Giants ended up beating us. We thought we could beat them. We had a great opportunity at home. They made one more play than we did and got a three-pont win. That was tough.”