Joe Whitt: Defensive Coordinator in Waiting?

Respected Cornerbacks coach has excelled in coaching up young talent during his time with the Green Bay Packers.

By: Mark Prott

The resume continues to build with each passing year. Young project after young project thrusted upon Joe Whitt Jr. and almost every time the same result occurs. Whitt, age 37, ends up bringing out the scouted talent through his coaching and a legitimate player quickly emerges on the field. Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Davon House, and Casey Hayward come to mind. Add in the outstanding rookie performances in 2015 out of the trio of Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, and Ladarious Gunter, albeit in varying amounts of playing time, and it’s easy to see the evidence is there. Joe Whitt Jr has proven he can coach cornerbacks with the best of them.

Promoted to Cornerbacks coach of the Green Bay Packers in 2009, Whitt came into a good situation that year with veteran Al Harris and a star playmaker in Charles Woodson entrenched as the starting tandem to go along with an upcoming talent at nickel in Tramon Williams. However, Whitt wasn’t intimidated and former Packers CB Tramon Williams noticed right away “He’s not shy, even though you got guys like Charles Woodson and Al Harris, you think, ‘What can he tell those guys?’ But he didn’t see it that way. He feels you can coach up a player, and that’s what he did,” said Williams in an interview with Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel.

While Whitt helped Williams take his game to a Pro Bowl level in 2010 and in some degree helped his now close friend Charles Woodson as he became Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, perhaps his biggest accomplishment was the job he did with current starting cornerback Sam Shields. Shields signed with the Packers in 2010 as a rookie free agent. Having played 3 years as a wide receiver for the Miami Hurricanes, Shields played only one year of cornerback in college. Simply put, he was about as raw as can be. His playing card that got him into the NFL was his blazing 4.28 forty speed but it takes more than speed to play corner in the NFL.  And it sounds like it wasn’t an easy endeavor. “He had no clue. Trust me, no clue,” Whitt said bluntly. “There was one day, I almost lost my mind,” Whitt told the Associated Press.

Fast forward to the upcoming 2016 season, Sam Shields, age 28, continues to use Whitt’s teaching to hone his craft as he enters the prime of his career as the Packers top cornerback. Behind him, talented 2nd year players Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins look to battle for the next two spots atop the depth chart. Talent-wise, it’s possible to argue that this trio could help return the Packers secondary back to the ball-hawking crew it was from 2009-2011. Let’s also not forget that Randall was actually a safety at Arizona State and Rollins had only one year of college football experience at Miami (Ohio) after playing 4 years of college basketball. To get them on the field as rookies was impressive and a testament to the coaching ability of Whitt.

So why do I believe Joe Whitt Jr. could be a NFL defensive coordinator, maybe even in Green Bay? Well besides the impressive resume, Whitt has shown a desire that he wants to move up the ranks in coaching. “I just know I want to run my own team,”  Whitt said in an interview with McGinn. He clearly doesn’t shy away from the subject, also telling ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, “I like working for Mike,” Whitt said. “And hopefully if any other opportunities come in the future, I’ll be able to take those opportunities.” Coach Mike McCarthy has shown he isn’t afraid to block interviews if a coach is under contract, but Ben McAdoo left in 2014 for a promotion with the New York Giants as offensive coordinator.

An opportunity to coordinate in Green Bay would hinge on the future of Dom Capers, who will be 66 in August. Capers hasn’t spoken about any plans to retire soon, so it would only be speculation if he has a number in his head of how long he wants to go. There’s also always the chance the Packers defense takes a step back and McCarthy decides a new voice is needed to lead the defense. Whitt’s blunt in your face approach as the leader of the defense could be appealing.

Or could the Packers change the structure like they did with the offense coaching staff when Edgar Bennett was promoted to offensive coordinator and Tom Clements to associate head coach/offense. Would an increase in title and/or responsibility entice Whitt to stay if Capers stays on in the coming years? That question remains to be answered. One thing’s for sure. The Packers have a rising star on their coaching staff in Joe Whitt Jr. and the resume backs him up. It’s only a matter of time before he fulfills his dream of moving up the coaching ranks. The only real question is where?