Whitner Confident in Buckeyes' Secondary

With players such as safeties Donte Whitner and Nate Salley, Ohio State should have a hard-hitting secondary this season. But Whitner says the key for the defensive backs is the experience they gained last season. We spoke to Whitner about his offseason and his expectations for the season.

Junior safety Donte Whitner is looking to build off his strong 2004 season.

Whitner started five of the Buckeyes' first seven games last year, but suffered a knee injury against Indiana and was forced to miss two games.

Despite the setback, he finished the season with 69 tackles and one interception – which he returned 24 yards for a touchdown in the N.C. State game. He also had a big sack in the Michigan game.

Whitner is a hard-hitter and he's added even more power to his game.

"This offseason, I bulked up," he said. "I got up to about 209. Then I cut some. I'm 205 right now. The reason why I went up to 209 was that I knew coming into camp and with all the running and everything you're going to lose a good four, five pounds. So, in the offseason, I focused hard on picking up weight and picking up good weight and maintaining speed. I wouldn't pick up the weight if I couldn't run."

Many of the players have mentioned they can already tell a difference from working with speed coach and Olympic champion Butch Reynolds.

"Right, Butch, he just looks at a lot of little things, the small things," Whitner said. "Running mechanics, arm swing, tensing up. A lot of players when they run, they get real tight. Butch just tells us, ‘You have to run smooth as if you were pinching pennies in your hand. Get your knees up.' Little small things, but they have really helped us."

Cornerback Tyler Everett revealed last week that the motto of OSU's secondary this season is "picks and sticks." Whitner smiles when asked about it.

"Well, what we mean by picks and sticks… we really pride ourselves – well, this year – we pride ourselves on taking the ball away from the other team," Whitner said. "And when a guy comes across the middle, or running free – or he thinks he free – you really give him a good shot to let him know that you're there."

There is a decent amount of experience in the secondary this season. Yes, some freshmen will likely see the field – players such as Malcolm Jenkins, Jamario O'Neal and maybe Andre Amos – but there are plenty of veteran players as well. Everett and Nate Salley are seniors; Brandon Mitchell and Ashton Youboty are juniors.

"Well, last year, a lot of us didn't have a lot of experience in the secondary," Whitner said. "I played some at nickelback my freshman year. Tyler played some nickelback. Ashton hadn't really played that much. Also last year we had E.J. (Underwood) and he hadn't really played that much. So, we had a lot of new guys out there.

"This year, we picked up a lot of experience last year. We've practiced a lot, we've lifted a lot together and we've watched a lot of film together. Right now, we're just very comfortable out there and you can really expect a good year out of the secondary."

Whitner says it gives the players a comfort level knowing there is experience in the secondary.

"You can tell a big difference," he said. "If your teammate – or your co-defensive back – has a responsibility, you know he's going to be there, so that helps me. And when Ashton is on the outside making a tackle he has to keep the ball inside. I know that Ashton is going to keep the ball inside, so I can go and I can run free to the ball and make a tackle. It really helps when you have guys out there that you know are good players and you know that even if you make a mistake a guy is going to cover for you. That's the biggest difference. Having guys out there that you know and that have game experience. The game slows down a lot when you get older and you get more experience. A lot of times out there on the field, we make plays that we wouldn't have made last year."

A lot of players can be found limping around between practice sessions. Quarterback Justin Zwick sprained an ankle Tuesday, but stuff like that is par for the course.

"Yeah, that's expected," Whitner said. "Small injuries to some players are expected in camp because you do so much pounding. That's why we don't do a whole lot of hitting because we don't want to lose guys for a long amount of time. But, you know, some players are a little dinged up right now and it's expected. My legs are sore. Your neck gets sore. Every team in America right now is sore. And if they're not sore, then they're not working hard."

There is already a lot of talk that the Buckeyes could make a run at the national title this season. Whitner is pleased that expectations are high and enjoys the comparison to the 2002 team.

"We do. We do welcome that comparison," he said. "We have a lot of good players out there. A lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Linebackers, defensive backs, defensive line. This is the last of the players from the 2002 year. And these guys – our seniors this year – they want to go out with a bang like 2002 did. So, we do welcome the comparison and even if we're not ranked as high as we think we should be ranked, it's all right because we're going to go out there and play hard and at the end we should be where we want to be."

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