"Yeah, it's lovely," cornerback Jermaine Whitehead said when asked about his expanding role with the 2011 Auburn football team.
Whitehead saw his most extensive action last week at Clemson and has won some praise from his position coach, Phillip Lolley, for the improvements he is making.
Asked if he feels like he is becoming more comfortable adjusting to the college game, Whitehead said, "Yeah, it's definitely good. Each play and each day at practice I feel more comfortable."
Whitehead and his teammates wrapped up practice for the week with a light session in shorts to go over the game plan for Saturday's 6 p.m. home contest vs. Florida Atlantic University. The Tigers, 2-1, will take on the 0-2 Owls out of the Sun Belt Conference. This is the first time the two teams have met on the football field.
Chizik put the Tigers through a practice that lasted one hour and 10 minutes on Thursday evening. With rain in the area, the Tigers worked out in their new indoor practice facility.
"The focus was on us this week--getting us better," Chizik said on Thursday evening. He noted the coaching staff studied the details of each of the three games the Tigers played to figure out ways to improve offensively, defensively and in the kicking game. He said on Saturday night he will be looking for improvements areas.
This week's practices, which were not as physical as the previous three weeks, were focused on correcting mistakes. The Tigers struggled with alignments and missed tackles on defense vs. Clemson. Offensively, the Tigers are looking to protect the passer more effectively and become more productive on third downs while continuing to crank up the running game that was improved in weeks two and three after a slow start vs. Utah State.
The head coach also said the Tigers are looking forward to their first night game of the season. The first two games were morning kickoffs while the Clemson game started at noon Eastern time. "It will be a lot of fun," Chizik said of playing under the lights, noting the players like night games while saying that he believes the fans will like the opportunity to have their first chance this year to get in extensive pre-game tailgating.
The weather on Saturday should be excellent for tailgating and football with afternoon highs in the low 80s and temperatures dropping into the 50s at night. No rain is expected.
Whitehead, who Auburn signed out of Elzy High School in Greenwood, Miss., split his time there between defense and offense. He has mainly worked as a nickel back this season, an assignment he said he enjoys.
"You get to show both parts of your ability--your physical parts and your cover skills," he said. "I've been working a little bit at the outside spots, but I've been working the nickel pretty heavy and I think that's where they like me the most."
Asked what he is trying to improve for game four, Whitehead said, "Just the fundamentals, the small things like just lining up and everything you do before the play and after the play," he said. Learning how to get a pre-snap read on the offense is an important part of what cornerbacks need to do, he pointed out.
In other news and notes:
*Junior linebacker Jonathan Evans, who missed the Clemson game with a shoulder injury, could miss this week's game. Chizik said the former starter is "day to day."
*Saturday's game will be televised on Fox Sports South. Bob Rathbun will do the play by play with analysis by former Kentucky and NFL quarterback Tim Couch. Kristina Akra is the sideline reporter.
*The game will be carried on Sirius channel 219 and XM 198 with coverage by The Auburn Radio Network.
*Auburn will look to extend its all-time record to 17-0 on Saturday vs. teams from the Sun Belt Conference.
*Under Chizik's tenure, the Tigers are 11-1 against non-conference opponents, including a 9-0 record at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Overall, the Tigers are shooting for an 11th straight victory on their home field.
*Despite the end of Auburn's 17-game winning streak last Saturday at Clemson, Chizik said there were some encouraging things such as Cody Parkey's kickoffs. The sophomore is tied for the national lead in touchbacks with 12 this season.
Chizik also said the game video from Clemson showed a lot of players gave major effort and that was encouraging to the coaching staff on a day the Tigers suffered their first loss since 2009.