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Tiger DBs adjust

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Tiger DBs adjust

Auburn secondary trying to get safeties ready and get used to the new ways of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Sports Reporter

AUBURN -- Auburn cornerback Jonathan Wilhite paid a painful price for some aggressive bumping when his hand got wedged in a receiver's shoulder pads Friday.

"He kept running, so it got twisted," Wilhite said.

Wilhite has sported a brace on his right wrist since the injury, but he said it should be off soon.

Wilhite's good health is good news for a secondary that needs it. Fellow starting cornerback David Irons has missed several practices with a hamstring, and Auburn is still sorting out its young players at safety.

In a defense with several question marks, the secondary might be the center of the concerns.

Irons and Wilhite are reliable returning starters and -- if they stay healthy -- will be strong cover men. But the safeties are more worrisome. Senior Will Herring has switched to linebacker, leaving junior Eric Brock, redshirt freshman Aairon Savage and sophomore Tristan Davis to fill the two spots.

Injuries have decreased the unit's margin for error. Zac Etheridge is out with a hip pointer and Lorenzo Ferguson is trying to return from a shoulder separation.

Despite the concerns, Wilhite said his unit is confident. New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who coaches the defensive backs, hasn't allowed them time to worry.

"Each player is confident in each other," Wilhite said. "We aren't trying to buy into hype. Muschamp works us. When you think it's a day that can't get harder, the next day is harder. We're going to get better and better as the season goes. That's our goal."

Wilhite has no doubt that he's gotten better since last year.

A native of Monroe, La., Wilhite was a junior college All-American at Butler County (Kan.) Community College. He perfected his defense in Kansas after spending most of his high school career as a receiver and running back.

He played in all 12 games last year for Auburn, starting the last six. He had one interception during Auburn's blowout at Kentucky.

"I'm a different corner in my eyes (compared to last year)," Wilhite said. "Muschamp has taught us the fundamentals. He always is stressing little things. I'm going to be a much better cornerback than I was last year."

Players first noticed the differences between Muschamp and his predecessor, David Gibbs, during the spring.

Irons said players were having a tough time adjusting to Muschamp's preferred "one-hand" jam, instead of using the two hands that Gibbs encouraged.

In scrimmages, Wilhite said Muschamp has been telling defensive backs not to tackle so low.

"There are a lot of little things changed that are going to make this a better defense this year," Wilhite said. "(Muschamp) said he just wants the tackle secured. He stresses that a lot of people get hurt going down low. You hurt your neck a lot. They want a helmet-to-helmet tackle, face-to-face stuff."

While the cornerbacks are settled, the safety spot is still officially undecided. But if the season started today, it appears Savage would start at safety with Brock. Davis is still expected to get plenty of snaps, and the rotation could change as the season goes on.

"There's a lot of competition," Savage said. "But it makes it fun on both sides of the ball. We're all just trying to compete to get (the job). Whatever happens, happens. The big eye in the sky don't lie. Isn't that what they say?"

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