After all, Whitner had repped with the first team all spring, while junior Tyler Everett, his main competition, was sidelined with an injury.
But as the Buckeyes move toward the end of preseason camp, it appears that the 5-11, 196-pound Everett will open the season as a starter. Whitner and sophomore Ashton Youboty are being groomed, instead, to serve as nickel backs.
"I missed spring and I came in for the fall and knew I had to challenge for that spot," Everett said. "I just felt like I should be in there. I'm not taking anything away from Donte. But as far as starting, everybody wants to be a starter. That was one of my goals."
Much has been made of the camaraderie of the defensive backs. But Everett said there also comes a time when you have to stand up for yourself and make a statement. He was asked if he felt he has done that this fall: "I hope so," he replied.
"Everybody laughs and jokes around in the meeting room," he said. "Everybody is friends. You pat somebody on the butt when they do something good and we all try to pick each other up. Out on the field, it's competition. But we never let competition get in the way of friendship."
One area the Buckeyes want to improve on defensively is forcing turnovers. Everett showed that ability in Saturday's jersey scrimmage as he intercepted an errant Justin Zwick pass.
"It felt good," Everett said. "Everybody did their job on the defense. The quarterback threw the ball my way and I was waiting on it. When he came out of his drop, our defensive linemen were rushing so he probably couldn‘t see. I‘m not that tall of a guy, so I don‘t think he really saw me. He just threw the ball up for his receiver and I just jumped up and snagged it.
"It's kind of hard that we lost the jersey scrimmage as a whole. But we did create a lot of turnovers. That's something we try to do."
It was ironic, of course, that Everett, a Canton McKinley product, was intercepting Zwick, his former nemesis at Massillon Washington.
"It was like high school," he said. "We still joke around like high school about things like that."
As one of seven new starters on the defense, Everett knows he has big shoes to fill.
"The last couple years, it's been tradition that the Ohio State defense has been great," he said. "We want to live up to that tradition and try to be better than the previous defense has been."
"They are all three great quarterbacks," he said. "They bring different things to the table. Troy can run really well. Justin can throw. But Justin shocked me (during the scrimmage) the first few plays by running with it. I was waiting on Justin to sit back there and throw.
"Todd was in there so much. They may have been trying to give Troy and Justin a break."
Defensive backs coach Mel Tucker talked about Everett's emergence.
"He's done a good job for us," Tucker said. "I thought he had a good off-season. His focus has been what I'd like it to be, in the meetings and on the field. I think he's starting to come out of the shadows a little bit. I think he has a fairly good idea of our scheme. I think he has a pretty good idea of what this program expects out of him and what I, as his position coach, expects out of him. He wants to live up to those expectations."
Everett has played in 26 games over the last two years. He worked in last year, at times, as the nickel back. He has two career interceptions.
"I look back to that Michigan State game last year," Tucker said. "The first play Tyler Everett was in the game, he makes a big play and picks it off and returns it 60 yards. That was a big play. They were in our red zone at that point. Those are the things I look at.
"Tyler seems to have a knack for making a play. I remember his freshman year, he made a big play in the Washington State game. Will Allen was hurt and he had to come in and be our nickel guy. He made a play there and he has made plays on special teams. But again, consistency, if we can be consistent and make plays when we have opportunities to make them, we'll be fine."