He had a busy and productive 2011 season as a true freshman. Based on his performance in spring training, there is a good chance his role with the defense will grow this fall.
After studying video of Whitehead playing in all 13 games last season when he saw action at cornerback, nickel back and on special teams, new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and new secondary coach Willie Martinez gave Whitehead a look at strong safety in spring drills and liked what they saw.
"I think Jermaine will have a very important role as we go into fall camp," VanGorder said. "You may see him playing all three of those positions."
VanGorder is looking for players on the last line of defense who understand the big picture of what is going on at all 11 positions. Whitehead, who was valedictorian in the spring of 2011 at Elzy High in Greenwood, Miss., is a guy the defensive coordinator notes is an "interesting" player for the 2012 Tigers.
"He may not feel as comfortable about it (playing safety) right now, but us as coaches we think it carries a lot of value for our defense in that he is a very intelligent player and really, in the long run here, he can function in a lot of different positions for us," VanGorder said.
"We want him competing for the starting safety job for us, but he's got background at corner" VanGorder added. "He obviously started games at nickel and now he has learned the safety position.
"It is a great advantage in having a player like him," the coach said. "He is a very smart player and he is still young. There is still a lot of physical development that has to take place with Jermaine."
Jeremaine Whitehead is shown at practice.
Whitehead notes that he has become bigger and stronger since arriving on campus last summer and he is continuing to work on that area of his development. He checked in at 5-11, 180 pounds as a senior in high school when he played both ways. He made 61 tackles and intercepted four passes in 2010, two which he returned for touchdowns. He added six rushing touchdowns and 800-plus yards on the ground.
Now up to 195 pounds with the possibility of growing into the 200-plus range as he continues to mature, he was familiar with playing safety before he got to college because it was a primary position for him in high school.
Whitehead said he feels like he is making progress learning his assignments being taught by Martinez, a coach he notes he will enjoy playing for this season. The sophomore points out the biggest change for him at safety compared to playing cornerback and nickel is more involvement in run support.
Last fall Whitehead was in on 31 tackles, more than any other freshman on the team. He finished the year with 22 solo tackles and three pass deflections. In his only start he intercepted a pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown vs. Florida Atlantic.
By the end of spring training he was working with the first team after returning starter Demetruce McNeal missed practice time with a kneecap injury. McNeal should be full speed when practice resumes in August.
As he heads into his sophomore season, Whitehead said he feels that he should be able to fit in well with the system being installed by VanGorder and Martinez, and is ready to do whatever they need him to do this fall. "I am just trying to make Auburn a better team," he said.