Auburn, Ala.—When Auburn junior cornerback T'Sharvan Bell went down with a knee injury in the loss to Georgia it was a big blow to a defense that needs one of its most experienced players in the secondary. The biggest loss however may come off the field as Bell was one of the most vocal leaders on a group that plays just five upperclassmen in its two-deep.
Without him on the field the job of cornerback opposite Chris Davis will fall to either sophomore Ryan White or freshmen Jonathon Mincy, Robenson Therezie, or Jermaine Whitehead. Auburn’s nickel defensive back for much of the season, Whitehead has been the most productive of the group in 2011 and he said getting the job in this way makes it tough, but they’re just wanting to do their part.
“It’s a tragic loss,” Whitehead said. “Each one of us is trying to step up and get on the field this weekend and bring the spark that he brings to the team.
“He meant a lot, not just to the defense, he meant a lot to the offense,” he added. “He was just that guy who made key plays year last that was one of the key players to that team last year. He knows that it takes and he was just trying to get us back to the promised land.”
Facing a Samford team that will throw the football under first-year coordinator and former Auburn GA Rhett Lashlee, the Tigers will have their work cut out for them defending sophomore receiver Kelsey Pope and his 73 receptions this season. Whitehead said he believes they’ll rotate guys in and out at corner to help ease them into the situation.
“I think it’s going to be by committee,” he said of how the role will be played. “That’s kind of they they’ve doing, the younger guys. It helps us feel the game a lot more.”
With 23 tackles, one interception, and three passes broken up, Whitehead has been the busiest of a large group of true freshmen on defense for the Tigers this season. Taking on a larger role throughout the season he said he’s made some plays, but hasn’t been as consistent as he wants to be.
“I’ve been playing pretty good,” Whitehead said. “ I missed a chance to make some big plays maybe in a couple games, but it’s just growing pains.”
With two games left in the regular season and a chance to finish strong, Whitehead said he and the defense are focused on getting back to playing physical football and establishing Auburn as a team to be reckoned with.
“Just play within the defense,” he said of the goals on defense. “Play physical, play fast, have a mindset that you’re not supposed to score on nothing. That’s all I think. We’ve got to get our mentality back, our swagger or whatever and come out and play hard.”
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