Wilhite began the 2005 season as a backup, but won a starting spot at midseason and stayed there. He and senior David Irons, another returning starter, are expected to give new defensive coordinator and secondary coach Will Muschamp solid play at their positions.
In Auburn's second major preseason scrimmage a week ago last Friday, Wilhite injured his wrist and missed some practice time, but fortunately for the Tigers the problem turned out to not be a major one.
"I am practicing with just a taped wrist," Wilhite says. "It is about 90 to 95 percent now. I hope it will be 100 percent by game time. I can jam with it now and that is the most important thing."
As a junior, Wilhite made 47 tackles, which was fifth on the team, and he was second in pass deflections with seven. He also picked up an interception at Kentucky after transferring to Auburn from Butler County Community College in Kansas with three years of eligibility remaining.
"I think I will be a lot better than I was in the Capital One Bowl last year," Wilhite says. "Coach Muschamp came in and has improved me. He has taught me and the defensive backs a lot more techniques.
"There is always room for improvement," the cornerback adds. "Coach Muschamp talked to me about finishing plays and being consistent. I plan on improving throughout the season. I am going into the opening game with a positive mind."
The opening game is almost here at the Tigers take on Washington State at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday. Led by quarterback Alex Brink and what is expected to be a strong receiver corps, the Cougars are expected to throw the ball 40 to 50 times in the opener.
Washington State QB Alex Brink put up big numbers last year for the Cougars. He threw for 2,891 yards and 24 touchdowns with 13 interceptions.
"Coach Muschamp told us it is an opportunity for the defensive backs to go out and prove ourselves," Wilhite says. "We can prove that we can hold up and stand our ground. We have confidence in all four defensive backs out there and we have confidence in each other. It is going to be a challenge, but I believe we are up for the challenge."
Looking at the overall defense, which features a rebuilt front seven and a new starter at safety, Wilhite says, "I believe the 11 we will have out there are players who are confident in each other and Coach Mushcamp will be confident in, but we still have room to grow. We are good defense right now, but we are a long way from being a great defense."
Wilhite, who is from Monroe, La., played in 12 games last season for the Tigers.
Redshirt freshman Aairon Savage is expected to start at the free safety spot vacated when Will Herring moved to strongside linebacker. Eric Brock, who shared starting assignments last year with Steve Gandy, who also moved to linebacker, is expected to line up at strong safety vs. Washington State.
"The safeties caught on through camp," Wilhite says. "Aairon Savage stepped up and Eric Brock has gotten a lot better from last year. Myself and David Irons have gotten a lot better, too. We will see on Saturday how we are doing."