wasn't sure what to expect of his NFL Europe experience this spring, but he knew what he needed to work on in order to remain a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
Whitaker's path to the Vikings hasn't been an easy one, but he is ready to accept his part of the blame for not playing in the NFL last year, and he spent a few months in NFL Europe trying to correct one thing he knows led to release by the Tampa Bay Bucs last fall – "stupid penalties."
"I was able to go over there (to Europe) and work on things I needed to develop, like my tackling, getting re-routes in the Cover-2 because that's the main thing we run here – basically the Tampa-2 – and basically work on my discipline, as far as getting stupid penalties like personal fouls. That was a big part of what cost me my job in Tampa. In preseason I got like three personal fouls in back-to-back games," Whitaker said.
"That cost me my job. Sitting at home for a whole year, that's all I told myself as a sat at home and worked out and thought about football: ‘If I get one more chance, I will not lose my job to something as dumb as penalties because that can be controlled.'"
Whitaker said he had two penalties in NFL Europe this spring – one for pass interference and another when "a guy ran into me, which I still think is shaky call," he said with a grin. "They threw the flag on one of the balls I intercepted."
Still, his performance in NFL Europe was impressive.
He started every game for the Rhein Fire and posted four interceptions (two for TDs), which tied him for second-best in the league. He added 42 tackles, 12 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and nine special teams tackles. He also tied an NFL Europe record with a 100-yard interception return for a TD at Hamburg on May 14.
Whitaker saw time in four games for Tampa Bay in 2003 with one start and spent the 2004 season on the Buccaneers' practice squad. He signed with the Vikings on Feb. 17.
But in 2005, his pro career ended – at least for one season – when the Bucs released him. The Tampa Bay coaching staff told him that his preseason personal-foul penalties were a big reason for his release, he told Viking Update.
"Pass interference on cornerbacks happens. But hitting guys out of bound after the play, that's just dumb. That's what I wanted to work on … and I wouldn't trade that experience for nothing. I loved going over there and playing," he said of his recent opportunity with Rhein.
Whitaker said the Vikings didn't give him a laundry list of things to work on in Europe, but he knew from when he was released by Tampa Bay that penalties were a key reason.
"I've always been a livewire. You get caught up in being too aggressive and trying to make too many plays that it kind of gets you in trouble. You're a young guy, you want to impress the coaches and you run up on a guy and you're wondering if he's out (of bounds) and you just hit him anyways. … You're just over-aggressive and try to do too much to make plays. That's what hurt me."
He also dedicated himself to working on his tackling since he said that is a very important feature of the Tampa-2 defense, even for cornerbacks.
Turns out, he got to improve his tackling skills on more than just defense. He led the league in special teams tackles and was second on the Fire in defensive tackles. He also came close to leading the league in interceptions.
"I basically went over there and did what I wanted to do," he said.
And now he's getting a chance to prove to former Bucs secondary coach and current Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin that Ronyell Whitaker has learned his lesson on stupid penalties.
Cornerback Ronyell Whitaker learned that his over-aggressive playing style during the 2005 preseason likely cost him a job in the NFL last year. With that in mind, Whitaker went to NFL Europe this spring to prove he can play within the confines of the rules.
CB went to NFL Europe this spring to prove he can play within the confines of the rules.