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Nice Guys Finish First

Posted Dec 22, 2011



You’ll never see Donte Whitner or Carlos Rogers decline an interview request. It’s just not in their nature.

The way the 49ers strong safety and starting left cornerback treat the media is quite noticeable when both players are consistently being sought out to comment on their contributions to an 11-3, NFC West-winning 49ers club.

With 13 years of combined NFL experience, the newcomers to the 49ers secondary are always willing to talk about their first season in San Francisco. While Rogers has previously been to the playoffs twice in the six years he spent with the Washington Redskins, he’s never been as a division champion. Whitner, on the other hand, has yet to play in the postseason.

And now that both players are set to make their 49ers playoff debuts in a matter of weeks, it’s no surprise they’re still under the spotlight. According to Rogers, all of his previous media training helps him be so accommodating.

“I guess it’s from being in Washington,” Rogers said with a subtle smirk. “You understand the ins and outs of it. There’s nothing wrong with talking, even if you have a bad game or good game. If things aren’t going good for the team in season or for an individual, there’s nothing wrong with talking.”

Whitner shares a similar stance. For him, it all goes back to accountability and professionalism.

“It comes from understanding this part of the game, understanding there’s a responsibility,” explained the safety he signed a three-year contract with San Francisco. “We understand people want to know what’s going on.”

Rogers’ politeness extends to his relationships with teammates. The same goes for Whitner.

“You see it day in and day out with those guys,” said the 49ers other starting cornerback Tarell Brown, whose locker is a few spots away from Rogers. “Both Carlos and Donte are very humble, down to earth, family-oriented guys.

“You treat people the way you want others to treat you. If you treat people the right way, good things happen to you. They’re no different.”

Good things have certainly happened to both 49ers defensive backs as they’ve put together serious cases to make the 2012 NFC Pro Bowl roster. According to recently released fan voting results which account for 1/3 of the vote, Whitner finished fifth at his position, while Rogers finished second amongst NFC cornerbacks.

Through 14 games, Rogers has been solid in pass coverage, totaling 45 tackles, six interceptions and 15 pass breakups. Meanwhile, Whitner has been a reliable run-stuffer, totaling 78 tackles to go with two interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

Their success isn’t shocking to teammates.

“They’re always working on and off the field to better their game,” Brown added. “Anytime you can get the ball back to the offense with all the weapons we have, it’s a positive. With those guys, they’ve been doing a great job since they got here as far as taking the ball away.”

Looking back on the strong start to their 49ers careers only makes Whitner and Rogers truly appreciate their decisions to come to the Bay Area.

“With Donte and I coming into the situation of not knowing where we were going in free agency,” said Rogers, who signed a one-year contract with San Francisco prior to training camp, “we both chose a great place with great ownership, great players, a great staff and it’s working out for us.”

Rogers and the rest of his 49ers teammates have shown their thanks by giving back to the support staff around team headquarters.

“We gave gifts to our trainers, equipment guys, lunch room people,” Rogers revealed. “We’re being blessed in this situation. There’s nothing wrong with trying to bless people, not even with money, just showing your appreciation.”

The 49ers are set on delivering more gifts in time for the holiday season in the form of a Christmas Eve road victory against the Seattle Seahawks, who’ve reeled off five wins in their last six contests.

“It’s Christmas Eve and it’s my brother’s birthday,” Rogers added. “It’s going to be exciting.”

For Rogers and Whitner, they’ll face an improved Seahawks passing attack compared to when the teams met in the season opener. The 49ers won 33-17 on Sept. 11, holding Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson to 197 passing yards and a quarterback rating of 78.3.

Jackson, who’s completed 60.7 percent of his passes in his first year with Seattle, has guided his team to its current 7-7 record, including four wins at CenturyLink Field. The mobile quarterback has also built a rapport with rookie wideout Doug Baldwin, who leads the Seahawks in catches (46), yards (731) and shares the touchdown lead (3) with wide receiver Golden Tate.

The 49ers are more than familiar with Baldwin, who caught a 55-yard touchdown when the team’s first met. The undrafted receiver played his college ball at Stanford under 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

Familiarity aside, there’s plenty at stake for both teams. The 49ers have locked up a home playoff game and need to keep winning to maintain their standing as the NFC’s No. 2 seed.

“We’re playing a rivalry game and they’re on fire,” Whitner cautioned. “We’re looking to make this playoff run and it’ll be a great gift to the San Francisco community if we can get a win.”

So while providing an early Christmas gift for friends, family and the 49ers Faithful remains important for the defensive backs, so does the big picture.

“Playoffs are the best gift of all,” Whitner said. “Giving our fans, families, ourselves the gift of winning, having a winning football season, being able to be happy and have a smile on your face – that’s the best gift.

“That first playoff game in The ‘Stick, that’ll be the best gift to everyone.”