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The tone setter

Entering the defensive backs meeting room he sits in the front row. He then makes sure that Bills top pick Leodis McKelvin is seated right next to him. When the meeting begins defensive backs coach George Catavolos runs the meeting, but Donte Whitner has some influence on it as well.

"George directs the meeting, but (Donte) is providing direction during the meeting without being the coach," said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.

Whitner is providing direction to McKelvin as they walk through the film. He does the same thing on Thursday evenings at his home when he and his fellow defensive backs watch more film in preparation for the upcoming game inviting everyone to make their calls as they watch the same play three times through.

On the practice field he leads by example, and on the game field he does the same. At 23-years old Donte Whitner is a tone setter.

"When you think of a captain you think of someone that leads by example and he's a vocal leader," said fellow safety Bryan Scott. "He'll speak to us before the game, during the game and after the game. He's a very vocal guy. But he also leads by example because he practices hard and he wears his emotions on his sleeve and you can feed off of that."

Equipped with a strong work ethic and genuine love for football,Whitner is steadily making good on some lofty expectations after he was chosen as one of the first cornerstones for the team's new era under head coach Dick Jauron as the eighth-pick in the 2006 draft.

"Being a high draft pick a lot was expected of him and he's done a great job of stepping in and filling the holes left by Nate (Clements) and Troy (Vincent) and Lawyer (Milloy), who were the leaders or our secondary" said George Wilson. "So he's done a great job of coming in and as young as he is being knowledgeable about the game and motivating the guys around him because they see him giving up his body and flying out there on the field. When you set the tone and lead by example guys are going to follow."

Currently third on the team in tackles, no one plays more downs than Whitner on defense, primarily due to his versatility in run support and coverage. The strong safety can play in the slot, is the emergency free safety and emergency cornerback. There aren't many strong safeties in the league that can say the same.

Whitner also instinctively has a broader picture of the game, which helps him in his leadership role as a defensive co-captain with Chris Kelsay.

"I think his thought processes are along the lines of the way we try to think," said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. "He thinks outside of his position. No doubt about that. There are very few guys that do that and those are special people that you want to have in your organization."

That enables Whitner to provide a helping hand to younger players like McKelvin and Reggie Corner. And while that influence hasn't translated into results on the field yet, Buffalo's defensive boss knows there will be dividends from Whitner's guidance.

"I think it's a great way for them to enter pro football to have a strong person like that who they can learn from and when they absorb it and finally get it, it might be a few months, six months or a year when you see the effect of it," Fewell said. "But he's a great tone setter and they do listen and learn from what he is trying to do."

By no means is Whitner at a Pro Bowl level yet in terms of his play on the field. But his leadership is there and his work ethic is intact. Realizing it's just his third NFL season it's easy to be assured that on his current path he's headed for a consistent level of impact play.

"He's a guy that has played in a lot of big time games from college up to now, and watches film a lot and studies his personnel," said Wilson. "When you understand the game, how it's played and how you're going to be attacked those are some of the steps that are taken by the great ones to elevate their game consistently. He's definitely in the process of being one of those highly touted players in this league. He just needs to keep up the work."

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