When quarterbacks want to improve their draft stock, they head out west to work with George Whitfield.
Whitfield has worked with Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck.
Whitfield, the director of football at Whitfield Athletix, has been regarded as a ‘Quarterback Guru’ for years and his resume backs that up. Whitfield has worked with former first round pick and current Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, No. 1 overall pick and current Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and most recently, the 2012 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck from the Indianapolis Colts. The Whitfield Quarterback Academy was founded back in 2007, however his teaching of the quarterback position started many years prior to that.
EJ Manuel, Florida State’s starting quarterback, was a junior in high school when he first worked with Whitfield and they have been close since that first meeting.
“I met EJ when he was a junior in high school,” Whitfield said. “He came out for a QB camp in San Diego and I was immediately impressed. Ever since then, I’ve gotten to know him and his family really well. When he came out, it was about a month before he committed to Florida State. I was impressed by his size, but he was really lanky, compared to how filled out he is now.”
Manuel was one of the top quarterbacks in the entire country for the class-of-2008 and Whitfield could see why right away.
“My immediate impressions were that he had strong footwork and a big arm,” Whitfield mentioned. “I always remember how he really wanted to be known as a pocket passer rather than a dual-threat. You know, we give all of the quarterbacks a questionnaire and they put down who their favorite players were. Everyone kept putting Michael Vick as their favorite quarterback, but EJ put down Carson Palmer. He said that he loved the way Carson played and he loved how comfortable he looked in the pocket. He said that he was the type of player he wanted to play like.”
This summer, Manuel went out to the west coast and worked with Whitfield and his staff to prepare himself for his final season in Tallahassee.
“I don’t just allow guys to come out just to throw the ball around without having a game plan and have an idea of areas they need to improve on,” Whitfield said. “I make sure they look at themselves and say ‘I need to get better at X, Y and Z and for some, A, B and even C’. For EJ, he really wanted to focus on his ball position and his consistency. He wanted to have the same setup and approach in his drop, when he is carrying the ball and even when sitting in the pocket. He just wanted overall improvement on his consistency, his touch and his ball position. He also wanted to work on his footwork in the pocket and to use slide steps to hang in the pocket longer rather than just taking off and running.”
Former NFL all-pro quarterback Donovan McNabb was coaching with Whitfield when Manuel was in town and the two hit it off well.
Manuel has become a Heisman trophy contender with his play this season.
“I had Donovan out here this summer when EJ was around and I intentionally made sure that the two of them did not workout at the same time,” Whitfield mentioned. “I had EJ off when Donovan was coaching and I had Donovan off when EJ was throwing. I wanted them to watch each other, study each other and then use that information to help EJ improve. Donovan was especially helpful with teaching EJ that the BCS Championship is not won or lost in the second week of the season. He put a major emphasis on taking everything one play at a time."
When Manuel was a sophomore at Florida State, the opportunity for a starting job became a real possibility for the first time, however Christian Ponder held onto the starting gig. Whitfield remembers others thinking that transferring was the best move for Manuel at the time, but he says that thought never crossed EJ’s mind.
“I thought it was really telling about EJ as a person and his maturity with how he handled the quarterback situation at Florida State,” said Whitfield. “When Christian held onto the job as a senior, a lot of people were telling EJ that he should maybe transfer, but that wasn’t even a thought for him. EJ kept saying how much he loved being a Seminole and how that was his home and how he will continue to do whatever he can to make his teammates better and continue to be ready for his opportunity.”
Whitfield knows that NFL scouts think very highly of EJ as a player, but they also have a great respect for the knowledge of head coach Jimbo Fisher.
“I have talked to many NFL scouts that love Manuel’s intangibles and especially his high football I.Q., which is a credit to him and Jimbo Fisher,” noted Whitfield. “Look at what Christian is doing with the Vikings right now. That is not a surprise to people well connected in the league and most expect that same thing from Manuel. Coach Fisher is excellent at what he does and it continues to show with how well EJ has progressed. He is up there with any other elite quarterback at the next level. You can lump him into that group of Matt (Barkley), Landry (Jones) and Geno (Smith). With EJ, you see a kid that is 6-foot-5 and 235 or 240-pounds and you just don’t enjoy having to game plan against a guy like that. You have to defend against the pass, but also the run. It’s not a fun week preparing for a guy like that and come Saturday, you are looking at a long, long day if you are the opposing defensive coordinator. He’s what I call a “Hummer Hybrid”, like a Ben Roethlisberger, like a Cam Newton and those types. They are big, strong, mobile and just really tough to defend. We haven’t even come close to seeing him reach his potential.”
This past Saturday night, Manuel turned in one of the top performances for a Florida State quarterback in many years and all Whitfield could do was smile.
“I was so excited seeing how well Coach Fisher and Coach (Dameyune) Craig had EJ prepared for this game,” he said. “It was so clear to me right away that he was ready for a big night and that he was so prepared for this game. EJ and his coaches have such a great, close relationship and that was evident when watching the game. Secondly, you can tell that EJ felt that this was his ball game. Whether they won or lost, it was going to be on his shoulders. He was so focused and so prepared for this game. He showed maturity and poise throughout the ball game. He never looked rattled or felt like he was forced to make a play. He just looked more comfortable than I’ve ever seen him. He showed that he belonged on the big stage.”
With the recent success of former first round pick Christian Ponder and now, a potential first round pick in Manuel, Whitfield credits the individual players, but also the coaching staff at Florida State.
“When you have success, you get the top players to come play for you,” Whitfield mentioned. “Look at Florida State bringing in Jameis Winston and look at Manuel. Both are incredibly dynamic and gifted quarterbacks. They could have gone anywhere to play ball and in the end, they chose Florida State. It’s a credit to the coaching staff and it’s a credit to how well these guys work with quarterbacks. They could have simply gone to Florida State because it is a popular place to go, or the tradition or even the nice campus. These guys came here to win and become successful. These coaches at Florida State know what they are doing with the quarterback position and it’s shown over the past few years.”