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The Yoda of The Yard Marker
Andy Staples
February 11, 2013
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February 11, 2013

The Yoda Of The Yard Marker


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In 2010 the Tollners hired Whitfield to work with their biggest—and, at the time, most infamous—client. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had been accused of sexual assault by a woman in Milledgeville, Ga., and although prosecutors said they lacked the evidence to pursue a criminal charge, the NFL suspended Roethlisberger for four games. Big Ben needed to stay sharp during his time away, so the Tollners brought Whitfield to the Iron City. Soon Whitfield found himself at a Pittsburgh-area hardware store, buying a rake that would simulate a charging defensive end as Roethlisberger tried to target a receiver. Roethlisberger loved the drill, which Whitfield says he borrowed from current Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. Two years later reporters lit up Twitter with dispatches from Luck's pro day as Whitfield brandished a broom while the future No. 1 pick tried to throw.

Whenever Whitfield sees a change in the game, he responds by designing new drills. He beefed up his rotation of under-pressure drills after a scout told him that film study of one AFC team had found that quarterbacks had to make at least one evasive maneuver on 53% of called passes. For Jones, who had asked specifically for drills that would improve his mobility in the pocket, Whitfield designed the drill in which the offensive linemen fail to varying degrees, forcing the quarterback to move on every rep. "There's a notion with regard to training or practice that it's always pristine. The conditions are always perfect," Whitfield says. "O-lines aren't some Great Wall of China at any level. Set [QBs] up for what they're really going to walk into. You can't set them up for the streets of New York City when they're really going to Guatemala."

Cameron, who served as the Ravens' offensive coordinator until December, says coaches can expect three things from Whitfield-trained quarterbacks.

1) Footwork: "He gives a quarterback a tremendous base that sets the table for the arm mechanics."

2) Throwing motion: "Everyone may be a little bit different because of hand size and arm length, but the guy is going to develop a compact motion, which allows him to get the ball out as quickly as possible. That's critical at the NFL and college levels."

3) Throwing on the move: "He's got a sequence of drills where [his students] can take their fundamentals and use them athletically. Quarterbacks are on the move now more than ever. Traditional pocket passing is not nearly as valuable today as it once was."

Whitfield's creativity isn't limited to the practice field. Each time Whitfield meets a new Jedi, he presents the client with a pair of tennis-ball-sized metal spheres. Spinning the balls in the throwing hand strengthens the muscles in the palm and fingers, which is critical for quarterbacks.

For a guru who has trained the No. 1 pick in each of the past two drafts, Whitfield runs a decidedly mom-and-pop operation. Quarterbacks often meet him at some random field in the San Diego area, where Whitfield arrives in his dented black Nissan XTerra. He says he has had the chance to go to work for larger firms for more money, but such arrangements usually tie a trainer to a select group of agents. Whitfield, who charges $3,000 to $3,500 a week for predraft training, remains independent and therefore doesn't get locked out by certain agencies. Still, independence has its challenges. He must scare up quality receivers to run routes for his quarterbacks—he usually uses San Diego--based NFL players or receivers from San Diego State or the University of San Diego—and he must work with local colleges and high schools to find fields. "We're like the little guys always fighting against the Goliaths," says Ryan Flaherty, the founder of Prolific Athletes, another small, independent outfit that provides strength training for players, including Whitfield's.

On a sunny January day, Whitfield and the Jedis drive north to Irvine to work with a set of non-Whitfield trainees prepping for the draft. It feels like an away game. On the field at Concordia University, Jones and McEntee join North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon, a 6' 6" slinger who may have the strongest arm in this year's draft. Glennon throws to Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and USC wideout Robert Woods, and the ball sizzles as the laces whiz through the air. Jones doesn't have the same caliber cannon, but he rarely misses—even on high-degree-of-difficulty routes such as the 12-yard out. After another perfect out from Jones, Whitfield nods. "You'll throw those all day," he says. "Order another round."

As they walk through the parking lot after the session, Jones and Whitfield pass a Bentley. Asked when he'll trade in the XTerra for a Bentley of his own, Whitfield laughs. "Landry's going to have to win three Super Bowls before I get one of those," he says.

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