Atlanta, Ga.--Secondary coach Willie Martinez makes his Auburn debut on Saturday night as the Tigers take on Clemson at the Georgia Dome with new starters at both safety spots and another at cornerback.
Jermaine Whitehead, a reserve cornerback last season as a true freshman, was chosen by Martinez and new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder to change positions in spring training. So far the move seems to be going well.
Jermaine Whitehead played as a cornerback last year as a true freshman. He has changed his number to 9 for his sophomore season.
“Jermaine is a very smart football player,” says Martinez, who made the move to Auburn this season from Oklahoma to reunite with VanGorder, who came to Auburn from the Atlanta Falcons.
“He is obviously one of the guys, right from the get-go, that was picking up stuff very quickly,” Martinez says of Whitehead, who was valedictorian of his high school class.
“He was a little apprehensive of making the move and it took a little bit of convincing by the staff, but we just think that’s the right spot for him and we feel really good,” Martinez says. “He’s really improved and taken it to a different level.”
Whitehead and junior Ryan Smith are expected to open the season as the starting safeties for the Tigers while Ryan White, perhaps the biggest surprise of the preseason, is opening at one cornerback with returning starter Chris Davis at the other corner.
“He has been a player that has gotten better and better through the spring and has done a really good job through this camp,” Martinez says of White.
White’s main assignment last season was holding for field goals and extra points, but he stepped up his performance level this preseason and moved to the top of the crowded cornerback depth chart that includes the Tigers’ three 2012 defensive back signees–T.J. Davis, Jonathan Jones and Josh Holsey.
Jonathan Jones was a national high school hurdles champion at Carrollton, Ga., High School.
Jones and Holsey have received praise from their coaches this preseason and are expected to see action on special teams Saturday night vs. Clemson. Those coaches are trying to decide whether or not to play or redshirt Davis, who according to Martinez is “doing good” for a freshman. We’re really excited about him,” Martinez notes.
Commenting on the three new freshmen as a group, Martinez says, “I really like all those guys. They have all three been very focused, done a really good job academically through the whole summer and camp.”
Martinez notes that two of the defensive backs who have missed practice time, safety Erique Florence and cornerback Robenson Therezie, should see playing time vs. Clemson although neither is in the starting lineup. “They’ll see action, but how much I don’t really know,” he says. “They have been through some injuries and what happens with that, obviously you fall behind in reps.
“Each one of them are a little bit different and play two different positions, but there’s quite a bit of football left ahead of us,” Martinez points out. “We haven’t even started yet and they are all still learning the system and you can see how comfortable they get each day as they get into a new comfort zone. They’ll be a part of it.”
Another one of Martinez’s players, sophomore safety Trent Fisher, is one of three walk-ons to earn a scholarship in August. He is running second team on the depth chart going into the opener.
“Trent’s a conscientious, smart, focused individual,” Martinez says. He works extremely hard in everything he does so it’s not much of a surprise where he’s at. He’s very dependable. He’s still learning our defense like a lot of guys, but he’s done well to this point.”
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