Both Jim Harbaugh and George Whitfield have been called “The Quarterback Whisperer” at various points in the last few years. That alone says a lot about Harbaugh adding Whitfield to his staff as an intern this spring and summer. That is, some football coaches can be – loud cough -- a wee bit territorial. They want another coach tinkering with one of their players as much as a master painter wants another artist adding a few bold flourishes to their latest piece.
Harbaugh doesn't seem to have that issue, despite his expertise in developing passers. Asked in March how he'd feel if Colin Kaepernick, who was in Miami at the time, was working with a quarterbacks coach, Harbaugh said, “I wouldn't be offended if he was.” (Kaepernick said he didn't work out with a quarterbacks coach in Miami; he worked on mechanics by himself.)
Whitfield's title of “intern” implies that he'll be doing more watching and learning than giving instructions. But he arrives with quite a reputation having worked with NFL starters like Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck in the past and having been the Yoda to Johnny Manziel's Luke Skywalker in the run-up to the most recent draft.
“There’s no carte blanche, but we agree on a lot of things,” Harbaugh said of Whitfield. “I haven’t found anything we disagree on, so it’s not like we’ve turned our quarterbacks over to George. He’s going to augment, he’s going to assist.”
The addition fits Harbaugh's mantra of “Striving to get 1 mph faster all the time.” Last year he hired two-time NFL head coach Eric Mangini to be a consultant. There was no clash of egos. In fact, Harbaugh considered moving Mangini, whose expertise is defense, to quarterbacks coach if offensive coordinator Greg Roman moved on and Harbaugh had to reshuffle his staff by moving current quarterbacks coach, Geep Chryst, to coordinator. He didn't have to do that but still made Mangini the tight ends coach this year.
Another notable when it comes to Whitfield is, how will it impact Colin Kaepernick? He's already one of the top quarterbacks in the league and, according to Harbaugh, is poised to break out even more as he goes into his second full season as a starter. But there is room for growth. Whether it's Steve Young or Trent Dilfer, the consensus is that Kaepernick has room for improvement and that the bulk of that room is in his development as a pocket passer and going through his progressions.
Here's a sampling of an analysis of Kaepernick, this one from ESPN commentator and former starter Mark Brunell, who said the 49ers' quarterback sometimes forces throws to his primary receiver.
“My suggestion is: Focus on getting to your secondary receivers, find your checkdowns,” Brunell said in a recent segment. “Some of the best decisions that quarterbacks make throughout the course of a game and throughout the course of a season are basically finding the guys that aren't necessarily 15-20 yards down field. They're the check-downs right in front of you that if you complete them, they keep drives alive. That's what Colin needs to work on.”
Whitfield's forte, meanwhile, is in honing a player's technique and mechanics, especially when it comes to operating in the pocket. The last time he was in the Bay Area, he was chasing Luck around with a broom as Luck – a month from being drafted – worked out for scouts at Stanford. Whitfield was trying to simulate the chaos a quarterback experiences in an NFL pocket.