Jeff Whitaker is returning to Auburn's starting lineup
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Jeff Whitaker, welcome back to football.
The Auburn defensive tackle, who has 18 career starts but has none in the last 19 games because of injuries, is penciled in as a starter for the season-opener against Arkansas in Jordan-Hare Stadium at 3 p.m. Saturday. He should see plenty of action. The Razorbacks figure to run a lot, and the first line of defense will be the tackles.
That suits Whitaker just fine.
"I love it. I love the contact," Whitaker said. "I always say for any true defensive lineman, the reason why you fell in love with the game because it's a contact sport. I love this kind of ballgame. It's going to be good for me to come back and set it off with a game like this. But they are a hard-nosed football team. They stick what they believe in. They're going to try to force it in there."
Auburn defeated Arkansas 35-17 in a game that was a statistical anomaly. Arkansas ran 74 plays. Auburn ran but 55. The Razorbacks had the ball 8½ minutes longer. The rushing was almost even: Arkansas rushed for 222 yards, Auburn rushed for 233. Auburn threw only nine passes…in the entire game.
Whitaker, like in every other game, watched because of a bad knee. A bad back cost him time in 2012.
"It was devastating to go down in back-to-back seasons and to miss all of last year with the year we had, but I knew I was still a part of it," he said. "They're my brothers out there playing, so I was still excited and into it as much as I can. I was actually passing out water on the sideline. I'm glad I don't have to do that again. So it was good."
Now, he gets to hit somebody.
"I hope it's a good feeling. But we do a little contact in warmups and all that before, so you kind of get the juices flowing and get a good vibe," Whitaker said.
Whitaker is entranced at defensive tackle. No so Gabe Wright, who could play both tackle and end; and maybe Montravius Adams, who could play tackle and end in the opener, too.
"We've been messing around with some stuff," Whitaker said. "We've got the athleticism with Gabe and Montravius. They have the athleticism to play inside and outside."
Whitaker? "They always call me the 'old man.'" He's not going anywhere.
"My grandmother used to always tell me that I had a soul like my granddad. She said an old soul," Whitaker said. "I would be the one sitting around the coffee table listening to all the stories while everybody else in the family was out shooting basketballs. I grew up around my grandma and granddad, so I guess people take to some stuff I do, and some stuff I don't do, that my teammates just look at me as weird."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine