When Chad Whitener sits in the middle of a defense, you can see his eyes moving, probing, dissecting, analyzing. You can see the wheels turning. He doesn't make his first move until he's certain -- until he's absolutely sure he's made the right read.
More often than not, he's right. This year, he made 145 tackles, tallied four sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception. On New Years Day, Whitener sat down in his living room to watch the Rose Bowl, and continued to study. He's not done yet. He's got a whole new league -- a whole new level -- to learn.
"I really paid attention. When I was watching it, it was like I was studying film, honestly," Whitener says. "First, I was watching Wisconsin's defense, and how the linebackers were playing, how they were following gap assignments, how they were taking on lead blocks, tackling players. Then, with Stanford, it's really just downhill football, trying to mix it up with carries, really, but they're going to try to beat you running. That's what I was watching."
His eyes were also on the sideline, in a sense, as he studied his new coach – new California defensive coordinator Andy Buh.
Just two weeks later, Buh was sitting at Whitener's dinner table in Mansfield, Tex., conducting an in-home visit with his three-star linebacker.
"It was really good," says Whitener. "Coach Buh came over, ate some food, sat at our kitchen table, talked about what he thought about me, the plan he sees for me in the future, playing there at Cal, basically how it's going to work, me moving up the depth chart and the fact that if I do make plays, I'll earn a spot to play during my freshman year."
Buh of course won't just be the defensive coordinator. He'll also be coaching linebackers, as he did at Wisconsin, and as he did at Nevada, and as he did at San Diego State.
"It's really good, because linebackers, the MIKE is essentially the quarterback of the defense," says Whitener, who, at 6-foot, 210 pounds, is just about as big as current Philadelphia Eagles and former Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks was, when he was recruited to Cal. "They make all the calls. We make checks on ball movement, alignment -- it's really nice, because we're not going to have any discrepancies in what we want. We're going to learn about it in meetings, and we're just going to go from there ... I'm really excited that we got him, especially because I like how Chris Borland and Mike Traylor played for him at Wisconsin. They were some beasts at Wisconsin, and if he's coaching them up like that, I'm excited."
One of Whitener's strengths is being able to plug the inside gaps and stop the run, which will serve him well in the middle of the Bears defense. But still, he wasn't satisfied with just being a run-stopper, and set himself to becoming a more complete playmaker as a senior.
"This past season, I worked on making a lot of plays outside the box, too, so I'm not limited to just playing the run, anymore," Whitener says.
Buh will switch the Cal defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3, something that pleases Whitener, who's used to playing in that scheme.
"It actually makes it easier," says Whitener. "I won't have to learn different gap assignments. They're going to be kind of different, but I play a 4-3 in high school, so it's basically the same feel. There won't be that big of a learning curve for me."
Whitener will be making his official visit on Jan. 25, along with his newfound friend Edward Tandy, who just committed to the Bears on Friday.
"He texted me this morning," Whitener says. "I was happy. He'd been talking about committing ever since the Oregon game ... After the Oregon game, we were hanging around with the players and started talking and we just kind of hit it off. We've been texting ever since."
One other upshot from the in-home was the fact that both Buh and Whitener re-affirmed their loyalty to one another, setting the stage for a very relaxed official visit, as far as Whitener is concerned.
"I'm really looking forward to just starting to bond with the whole team, because I'm 100 to Cal," he says. "That's where I committed to, and coach Buh said he's 100-percent with me, so really, it's just getting used to and meeting the whole staff and starting to bond with the players."
IN-HOME: Chad Whitener
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