For his junior season Auburn's coaches are hoping that less is more. The lineman has dropped weight and increased his quickness to fit in with new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's scheme, which places a premium on aggressive linemen being able to make disruptive plays behind the line of scrimmage.
"I never expected for him to perform and do the things he did in spring ball based on watching last year's film," VanGorder said about what he watched from Whitaker's sophomore season.
"He was a pleasant...maybe surprise is the wrong word, but what I had in my mind, and what I thought his role would be, he changed my mind in respect to that, which is a credit to him," the coach added.
"Was it weight? I don't know. If it was the weight, that's a good thing. He needs to keep that in mind during the offseason."
Whitaker, who weighs right at 300 pounds on his six-foot-four inch frame, was heavier as both a freshman and sophomore. He has played at more than 320 in the past.
"I didn't anticipate that he'd perform like he did in our system," VanGorder noted. "I saw a guy who was a line-of-scrimmage player a year ago. He was able to do that effectively--penetrate and do some things that I didn't know he could do."
Starting all 13 games last year, Whitaker finished the season with 17 solo tackles and eight assists. However, he did not have a quarterback sack and only made two tackles behind the line of scrimmages.
This fall, with a full year's starting experience under his belt along with experience from the 2010 season as a backup during his true freshman year, the stage is set for a stronger performance as a junior.
Whitaker said that he believes he made "tremendous progress" in the spring, but added, "I still have a long way to go."
Whitaker, who has played in 27 college games, agrees with VanGorder that he was quicker on the football field this spring. "One thing that was different starting off, of course, was the weight loss," the lineman said.
"You can tell a noticeable difference just running to the ball," he added. "Your second wind comes quicker.
Jeffrey Whitaker runs a drill in practice.
Whitaker noted that he has also made improvements in his technique, particularly with how to effectively use his hands to fight off blocks from offensive linemen.
Noting that he saw signs that the defensive front as a group, as well as the defense as a whole, made progress in the spring, Whitaker said that the Tigers can't afford to slack off during the offseason.
"We still have a long way to go," he said, and the offseason will be important to the team's development. "It is very important from a chemistry standpoint and the leadership stepping up," he said.
The defensive tackle stated there is no substitute for hard work, and plenty of it, during the offseason. As a junior it is important to set a good example and be a leader, he added. "You have to stay on each other and hold each other accountable," Whitaker pointed out.
With the other starting defensive tackle, Kenneth Carter, out after having shoulder surgery, Whitaker got plenty of chances to show the coaches what he could do during the 15 spring practices. His work load increased even more when the top backup tackle, Gabe Wright, went down with an injury early in spring drills.
"It was okay," he said of the extra practice reps and snaps in scrimmages. "It was nothing to it," he added, noting more is more when it comes to opportunities to play the game he enjoys.