Everett, Whitner Looking To Shore Up Secondary

They are not the big-name players in the secondary, but they are important cogs in Ohio State's defense. Senior cornerback Tyler Everett and Donte Whitner recently gave their thoughts on the upcoming season, their roles on the team and much more.

When discussing Ohio State's defensive backs, the first names that likely come to mind are cornerback Ashton Youboty and safety Nate Salley. Both are All-American candidates and Salley is a team captain.

But if the Buckeyes' secondary is going to play at a national championship level this season, cornerback Tyler Everett and safety Donte Whitner will need to step up with career years.

Everett started seven games in 2004 as a safety, but this is his first season at corner. He knows that opposing offenses will try and pick on him this year.

"Yeah, everybody is going to try, especially with me switching positions," Everett said. "It's new to me, so they're going to think it's an easy go. But, I've been in the game before and I've had to cover people man-to-man and play zone, so I'm ready for it and the whole secondary is ready for it."

Everett thinks that if he can contain the likes of Ted Ginn Jr. and Santonio Holmes in practice, he can defend any receiver in the country.

"We go in practice against our offense and I feel that we have the best receivers in the country and the best quarterbacks in the country," he said. "So, if we go out there and compete against our receivers every day, I feel that come game time, we can go out there and play with anybody."

Everett was asked how Ohio State can stay focused on Saturday's opener with Miami with everyone already talking about the week two matchup against Texas.

"It's easy," he said. "Because everybody who talks about this season wants to talk about the Texas game. It's an important game, but the first game is more important than Texas. We have to take each game a step at a time and use each one as a stepping stone to the national championship."

Everett has only been a cornerback since the spring. He was asked if he feels like a cornerback, or if he still just feels like a regular defensive back that could play anywhere in the secondary.

"Well, I still feel like a DB, but I'm playing corner," he said. "The coaches ask me, if we have to, will I go in as the nickelback if they needed me and that tells you right there that I'm still thinking like a regular DB. They want me to play all-around in the back end. So, it's been a great transition for me. I've accepted it well. So, I can say I'm a cornerback/DB now."

Everett will bring a physical presence to the boundary cornerback position.

"We've talked about this before and playing safety and then going down to corner, a lot of corners are not really known for run support," he said. "So, when teams think about running – especially the outside runs – I can show up on run support a lot better."

When the depth chart was released last week and Everett saw he was listed as a starter, he was pleased. But he still had to do a double-take.

"It's a moment," he said. "It's new and especially looking at it and it says ‘cornerback.' I'm used to looking at it and it says ‘strong safety' or ‘free safety.' But, it's a good feeling that the coaches had faith in me to move me out there and now they're starting me. So, it's a good feeling to know that my teammates and coaching staff trusts me."

A pair of true freshmen is part of the two-deep in the secondary: cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and safety/nickelback Jamario O'Neal.

"These guys have shown great things," Everett said. "They work hard every day. Especially Malcolm. He has really handled the transition from high school to here well. He's playing like he's been here before."

It's not easy for a young player to pick up OSU's defensive system. Everett played as a freshman in 2002, so he knows what needs to be done to see the field early.

"It's complicated, but it's simplified," he said. "If you're a freshman, you're going to be overwhelmed by it, but once you get here and you've been here a while, then you're like, ‘It's really simple. It's not as hard as I thought it was going to be.'"

Another young player that has worked his way into the two-deep is redshirt freshman cornerback Brandon Underwood.

"Brandon is just like his brother E.J. was," Everett said. "Of course we lost E.J. to academic problems. But with Brandon, once he got himself going and woke up and knew what was going on, I knew he was going to be good. And then he had a shoulder injury and couldn't really participate in camp at first. But once he came back, then I knew he was going to start rolling."

* As for Whitner, he wants the Buckeyes to make a statement this Saturday against Miami. He doesn't just want to win, he wants to win convincingly.

"Well, we have that mindset because anytime you come out and it's the first game, you want to show everybody how hard you've been working, that you do have good players and that you do deserve to be ranked as high as you are ranked preseason," Whitner said. "We are ranked high preseason. Some might think we're too high, some might think we're too low. We just want to come out and show everybody that we are a good team and we are going to contend for a national championship."

Whitner knows that the RedHawks are a good team, especially offensively.

"I know that they want to come into Ohio Stadium and shock the world," he said. "You know, upset our season and stuff like that. But playing an in-state school like Miami of Ohio, they are a good team. They contend for the MAC championship every year and they've had good players come out of the program like (Ben) Roethlisberger and guys like that. So, when you go out there and play Miami, you don't just want to win, you want to win big. You want to play good, defense, offense, special teams. But it's not going to be easy because Miami has good players and a good team. They have two of the best receivers in the country (Ryne Robinson, Martin Nance). They have a tailback (Brandon Murphy) that I would wake up on Friday mornings when I was in high school and I would hear about him running for 330 yards, 350, five touchdowns. He's small, but he can play football."

Whitner gave Robinson a very strong compliment when he compared him to Ginn.

"Ryne Robinson, he reminds me of Ted as a punt returner," Whitner said. "I would say Ted is a better punt returner, but he's there almost neck and neck. Ryne's a shifty guy. A lot like Bam Childress. He can make you miss, and then he's not scared to put his head down and get the extra yards."

Coming into preseason camp, Whitner couldn't wait to begin hitting. But he is sick of hitting his teammates. He wants some fresh meat.

"After you finish all the running and all the lifting over the summer and you know camp is coming up, then you get that feeling (of wanting to hit)," he said. "But then that first or second week, you get tired of hitting your own teammates.

"Now you want to hit someone else. It's there now. The first week of hitting your teammates is all right. Second week, you know, it's a little shaky. Then the third week, you really don't want to hit your teammates anymore. And then this week, you are ready to hit another team."

In addition to playing safety, Whitner has an important role on the team as one of the "snipers" on punt coverage.

"You just know that you need to go full speed," he said. "There is no letting up. You have to do what the coaches have taught you to do. When you run down there, there's not too much more. If you feel that you are a good player and he's a good player, it's just like competing. You have to go down there and see who is the best player, who is the best competitor and hopefully it's me."

Whitner felt that he had a very productive camp. He did less thinking and more reacting compared to last year.

"I did have the kind of camp I wanted," he said. "Last year was a little tougher knowing that if I made a mistake I would probably be shifted back to the second team. This year, we have guys without much experience behind me. So, I was able to go out there and take some risks, but not hurt the team and then not have that thought in the back of my head that if I mess up, I have someone that's going to come in and take my spot. So, I was able to get in the film room a lot this offseason and learn and really get everything cemented in my head and learn the defense a little more. I know what the linebackers and defensive line is doing and that makes the game a lot more easier."

Whitner was asked about Underwood, who is expected to play a key role as a reserve corner.

"Brandon Underwood is a good player," he said. "E.J. was a good player and you see a lot of the things in Brandon that you saw in E.J. He can cover well, he's a big corner, he can run, he knows what he's doing. So, you might see him out there. He's not a true freshman – he's a redshirt freshman – and there's a possibility you could see him out there.

"Brandon made a move (during camp). He's tackling well. He's not making mistakes. He's getting turnovers and PBU's (pass breakups). So, he's making plays, so they had to move him up on the depth chart."

Whitner was asked if Underwood is playing for the honor of his family name after E.J. failed at OSU.

"He is," he said. "E.J. had his problems here and Brandon had a few problems, but he's straightened up right now."

And like most everyone else, Whitner has been impressed with the play of Jenkins and O'Neal.

"Well, those two guys have just shown that they can play," he said. "They've come in from day one and shown that they can play. They might not know everything and the coaches aren't really asking them to know everything right now – because they are true freshmen – but just some things and some situational stuff you will probably see them in there. But it's hard for true freshmen to come in. You really have to come in early and learn everything to really be able to come out there and just be a first-team guy. They're backups, but I'm sure the coaches won't hesitate to put them in certain situations."

Whitner was asked if Jenkins is the next great corner at Ohio State.

"I would say he is," he said. "He's a big corner with long arms. And he has speed – he can run. He can tackle. So, yes, he should be. If he keeps improving and progressing, he should be."

Whitner played as a true freshman in 2003, but he graduated high school early and participated in spring practice. Just how far behind were players like Jenkins and O'Neal coming into camp?

"Well, they were very far behind," Whitner said. "And with the mental part of it, they are still behind. Physically, they look good. But the coaches aren't really asking them to know everything. Just some situations. Nickel. The cornerback is easier than what Jamario is doing. He's playing safety and at safety you have to know what the corners are doing and the linebackers are doing and what you're doing so you can get people lined up. So, really, Malcolm can go out there and play without really knowing everything. But, Jamario has to know everything to play safety."

Whitner carries himself as a team leader. At this time next year, he could be voted as one of the team's captains.

"Well, it's not on my mind right now," he said. "I'm just happy for the guys who are captains right now: Nate, Nick (Mangold), Rob (Sims) and A.J. (Hawk). They've worked so hard for four years and now they finally get their chance to lead this team. And from what I've seen from those guys, they really want to go to the national championship and win the national championship. What we're going to do, the guys that are under them – juniors, sophomores, freshmen – we're going to go out there and play our hearts out for those guys and for the rest of the 2005-06 senior class.

"So, I'm just happy for those guys. I'm not really thinking about being a captain next year right now; it's not on my mind. When the time comes, if I am, good. If not, then whoever gets picked will be well-deserving of the spot."

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