- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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The last two years, quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. has tutored both Cam Newton and Andrew Luck, who both went No. 1 in the NFL draft. Whitfield’s latest pupil has been Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, who flew to California to work with Whitfield over spring break, then spent another week working with Whitfield in Norman in May.
After retiring from arena league football in 2005, Whitfield scoured the country, sitting in on meetings and watching practices of the major programs in college football. Along the way, Whitfield picked up a tip here, a drill there. By 2010, Whitfield had taken on Ben Roethlisberger as a client, and Whitfield’s curriculum began to create a buzz among the NFL and college football.
As he prepared for this week’s Elite 11 finals in Redondo Beach, Calif., Whitfield spoke to SoonerNation about his training with Jones:
Jake Trotter: How did you get hooked up with Landry Jones?
George Whitfield Jr.: I’ve known of Landry for quite awhile. Once his season ended, his dad and I had talked. Landry was going through the decision of ‘Do I come out, do I stay in, do I come out?’ type of deal. He had a very big decision. Once he made that decision -- and I thought it was a great decision for him -- he had talked to his dad and said, ‘Hey, this is the route we’re going to do.’ He said, ‘I really like what coach (Whitfield) is saying, I like his philosophy.’ He didn’t want to wait until after his next season to begin working on some of the things he wanted to work on.
So he touched base about coming out to California for spring break. At the time we talked, I hadn’t even met with Andrew (Luck) yet, so I thought we’d be in San Diego. Obviously Andrew (Luck’s pro day) situation developed to where we would be working out at Stanford. I called Landry back and told him I was going to be with Andrew at Stanford. He said, ‘Can I work out before and after Andrew? I’d love to still come out there.’ I hadn’t even thought about that. He said, ‘My dad and I will be there.’
And they came, and it was a great experience, from minute one. The guy is humble, grounded, a grinder. He sent emails with things he wanted to work on, things he thought he could improve, a bunch of questions about the quarterback position. The guy is meticulous. I thought, ‘Man, if he has this approach before he hits the field, what’s it gonna be like when he gets on the field?’ It proved out right. We had two great camps.
Trotter: Where is Landry special as a quarterback, and where can he and has he improved this offseason?
Whitfield: One, I think he’s tough. He’s an extremely tough individual. He’s been in all kinds of wars and big-time matchups at Oklahoma. He’s shouldered that offense the better part of three years. His résumé proves that. All-time passing leader at Oklahoma. He has a full grasp of what they’re trying to do offensively. He understands the game, pre-snap. He just has such a command in terms of his football acumen. I think that’s to a large degree why he’s so highly rated.
In terms of the things he wanted to work on was more operation in the pocket. More maneuvering in the pocket. Playing in tight spaces. Playing under duress. Landry wanted to work on that. He wanted to work on throwing the ball with more power, using the body. And he wanted to work out of the pocket, being in really awkward situations where he can make some really routine throws out of it. Once we got around to the concept and met on a few key ideas, he was locked in. I think the world of him for that. He spent spring break doing that. He even pushed back his own bachelor party to go train in cold, dreary, bay-area weather. So I thought that was a pretty impressive thing to see him do that.
Trotter: How do you think your program has benefited Jones?
Whitfield: Well I think just having more functionality both as a passer and a playmaker, and they’re two different things. Functionality as a passer, he would arm the ball. There were times last year he’d arm the ball. He’d be in a situation and you could play on the film, energy-wise, most of this ball’s energy came from his throwing arm. That’s not very efficient, and it’s going to impede you after awhile. He told me his throwing arm would be really fatigued, almost dead. So we needed to transfer some of that functionality and that energy to his lower body and to his core. And now his throwing arm, the power in his throwing arm is more of an asset. You get caught in certain situations, you have to arm what you can. But everything else, use your leverage.
Then functionality in terms of being a playmaker. I always use the term, you’re going to make throws within the confines of a phone booth. You shouldn’t need a whole bunch of room, because that’s not going to be afforded to you on the field all the time. So we began working on that.
It became a partnership as much as anything else. All those guys have done that. Cam took a big part in his training. So did Andrew. I saw that in Landry as well. No different from the rest of them. So you know what kind of path he’s going to be on.
Trotter: You guys worked out during spring break, did you work out again in Norman this summer?
Whitfield: Yes, I spent a week with him in May in Norman. We worked out at (Norman North High School). That’s where we spent the week working. And it was windy. Really windy. I don’t think we’ve been on the field together yet when it wasn’t gusting winds. It was gusty winds at Stanford all week. And it was gusting winds at Oklahoma. But just like at Stanford, we went both ways. It didn’t matter. And I got a sense of just how strong Landry is. He’s got a strong arm, and the ability to drive the ball to perimeter, drive the ball vertically, drive the ball off-balance. When it’s 15-20 mile-per-hour winds, and it’s not bothering him at all, and the ball is spinning, and he’s able to cut it in through there, you can get a real sense, he’s a physical, powerful man back here playing. That was pretty telling.
Again, we went two-a-days in that May run. That was pretty good. The routine we have with all the guys, we work hard in the morning, break for lunch, find a basketball court and go after it in a game of H-O-R-S-E and kind of regroup and settle down and reorganize the notes for the afternoon workout and go out and put in another two hours in the afternoon. I go back and analyze the film and call him before the next morning with the direction we’re going to go. Then come back and go again the next day.
Trotter: Who’s better shooting a basketball, you or Landry?
Whitfield: I won more games. I don’t know if that means I’m better. But his wife (Whitney Hand) smoked both of us. We played a game of H-O-R-S-E with her, we were both out of the game before she got her first letter. You want to say it’s embarrassing, but it’s not; it’s her profession. It’s like in the movie “300” the Spartans had Warriors and the rest of the Greeks had a whole bunch of guys holding weapons, but they were potters and painters. Landry and I were potters and painters. She killed us. But between he and I? No, I got him. I got him in more games.
Trotter: Based on your work with him, what kind of season do you think Landry is in store for?
Whitfield: I don’t know if I’d base it from our couple of weeks together. But I know it’s going to be an exciting one. If I’m a Sooner fan, I’m excited. When you look at it, the only two real weeks he had off in this offseason – and I mean off from workouts, off from class – the only two weeks that truly belonged to him, he invested it right back in his own skill-set and aforementioned preparation. And I’m not talking work a day, golf a day, work a day. He probably put in two dozen workouts on his own, with each workout going 90 minutes to two hours. And again, not just throwing routes, but working, training, grinding and splitting hairs and each intricacy that we could possibly find, slow-mo, freeze frame and all that stuff. So when you couple that with all the experience he’s been able to accrue these past few years, and with all the guys they have coming back, and this bird’s eye view he now has of the position, I expect Oklahoma to be playing late into January, and him leading the way. I can’t see 2012 ending any other way but that.
Trotter: I saw you were at Landry’s wedding, did you have a good time?
Whitfield: Yeah, it was great. He actually can dance a little bit. He’s much smoother and much more athletic than what you kind of see at Oklahoma when you’re watching games. I was pleasantly surprised. The guy can dance a little bit.
It was cool to see his family. He’s a very big family guy. From his 5-year old nephew to his sisters. He had some teammates come down. He had all the quarterbacks come down. I met Drew (Allen) and Blake (Bell), they’re like brothers. I don’t know how many quarterback rooms across the country that are as close as those guys. They support each other and it’s so competitive. But at the wedding those guys are suited up, dressed up and came to watch their brother take the biggest step of his life so far. So that was cool. His center (Ben Habern) was there and a couple of defensive guys were down there. It was a really cool opportunity just to go down there and be around him without being engulfed with football.
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