Whitley Ready To Resume Big Hitting

The funny thing is friends and fans recall his big hits far better than the man himself. Talk much more about them, too. As for Nickoe Whitley himself? "I don't remember what happened on the field until I see the film."

Don't fear. This is not a case of short-term memory loss. It's just that the Mississippi State safety is adept at putting his head-rattling tackles aside and preparing for the next, well, the next big hit. For that matter Whitley sounds pretty indifferent to the topic. In other words, there is no Greatest Hits compilation.

"Not really. I really don't watch that much."

That's fine though. Lots of other people are watching, and waiting for the junior free safety to chase the runner or receiver down come opening night at Scott Field. Not least because the last time Whitley was seen in game uniform he was being helped off the field with a ruptured Achilles. He'd torn it on, ironically, enough, a routine coverage move instead of some wicked piece of lumber-laying.

Now here he is, back on preseason track and expected to start on September 1. Practice, Whitley said, has been going well. "It feels good to be back out there playing and running around. The first couple of days I felt I started slow but I'm back full speed now."

His coaches are just a bit more cautious about assigning a percentage in this case. Still it's clear Whitley is in their lineup plans for the season. Here in preseason, well, they can pace the old Dog just a bit. And even if not participating in a play Whitley is a reassuring presence to the defensive staff and an unofficial coach to youngsters.

Of which there are several, whether sophomores Dee Arrington and Jay Hughes and redshirt Kendrick Market. Then there are the newcomes, Quadry Antoine and Deontay Evans. "I've got the most experience in the safety group. The guys are working together to get better."

Actually there are other and somewhat more interesting additions to this depth chart. Senior cornerback Corey Broomfield was moved to strong safety prior to camp; and now Johnthan Banks is taking some practice turns there too, per Mullen. This isn't so unexpected as, after all, Banks played full-time safety as a 2009 freshman before moving outside. Either way his veteran's perspective improves the safety unit's development, as does really old hand Louis Watson.

Watson welcomes the killer Bs' presence at practice. "They just bring more speed and man-to-man coverage at the safety position." More than speed and coverage, too. With Broomfield arrives the most entertaining personality in the secondary. Whitley has heard Broom's verbiage from a distance for two years, now here the guy is practically in his ear.

"Ain't no telling what will come out of his mouth!" grinned Whitley, who by contrast is not the most talkative Dog in this kennel. "We just communicate and make sure everything is going alright."

Everything about Whitley's recovery seems to be going splendidly, not to mention faster than would be the case for most athletes. Popping that muscle normally needs an entire calendar year before playing again. Whitley has beat the odds and the schedule. Though, he still can't recall the injury as it occurred in the Alabama game.

"I don't see how I could have got hurt on the film," he said. Much less grasp when told what had happened, a real rupture. "I really couldn't believe it. All I remember was back-pedaling, then I heard it pop."

And pop went the rest of his season, as Whitley had to miss victories in both the Egg and Music City Bowls. Nor could he add to the 34 total tackles and four interceptions tallied over ten games, seven starts at free safety. Many a college player would have been devastated by the bad break and few would have bounced-back so quickly.

But then Whitley already knew something about rehabilitation. His senior season at Provine High School ended almost as quickly as it began with a serious knee injury.

"You just have to work hard and get back in shape. I tore my knee in high school, I just had to get it back together. I already knew what I had to do. You just have to get in the training room and get it back good."

Whitley has gotten-back really good, by all accounts and not just his own. Now he approaches the junior year unconcerned about setbacks, ready to resume the hitting. Or the picking, as those four 2011 interceptions showed this isn't just a headhunter. True, the presence of Banks and Broomfield and Darius Slay mean there is as much competition within the team for picks as against the opponent. Still Whitley expects to come away with his fair share.

Especially because the entire Bulldog defense has plans of making life hard on passers, not to mention catchers. Whitley is excited about the defensive line's practice prowess and how that should mesh with a ball-hawking secondary.

"They give us a lot more attempts at the ball by their pressure. And we give them attempts at rushing the quarterback with our coverage. It takes everybody working together."

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