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Jeff Whitaker's positive attitude still plus for Auburn
Oct. 20, 2014

Jeff Whitaker, right, and Raashed Kennion apply the pressure on Louisiana Tech's Cody Sokol

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala.  Jeff Whitaker's comeback season doesn't show up on the stat sheet. It shows up in the locker room, on the sidelines and on the field when he's called on to stop the run.
Jeff Whitaker, the defensive lineman with the outgoing personality who has a handshake or, better yet, a hug for most anyone, remains an integral part of an Auburn football team and that is demonstrated in more than tackles.

This is Jeff Whitaker's senior season, plus one, after missing last year with a knee injury. 

"I'm just soaking in the moment," Whitaker said Sunday. "I think just listening to former players and guys that have played and retired, the main thing they keep stressing is, 'Don't take it for granted. Don't wish that it was over.' Because no matter how many years you play in the NFL, no matter, whatever, you're going to always remember these Saturdays. So I'm just really taking it in and loving it with my teammates. I'm really getting ready for this next stretch of the season."

The next stretch begins Saturday night when South Carolina visits Jordan-Hare Stadium in what officially kicks off the second half of the season.

Whitaker will begin that with three tackles, two starts and a 2010 national championship ring. His knee is still an issue. "The more physical work he does on it the more it inflames, so you have to limit it," said defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson awhile back. "That's something he has to deal with this final season."

Still, Whitaker is a veteran who can help shape the defense...and teammates.

"I'm a Jeff Whitaker fan," said defensive line coach Rodney Garner. "I told his high school coach over the weekend that they did a great job raising him. He'll be a winner in the game of life."

And from one alum to one who soon will be: "He's an Auburn man," Garner said.

Whitaker is taking it all in his final season.

"It's fun because you've seen the process," Whitaker said. "The first time it was kind of difficult, because you've got guys telling you what to do and you're just this freshman. You don't know what's going on. At the end of my freshman year  probably halfway through  I started playing a lot and doing this and that and that and I just took heed of what the Nick Fairleys and the Mike Blancs and the (Michael) Goggans and the (Ken) Carters were telling me. I think now being on the other side, you enjoy the process.

"It's simple things like how lining up. You're out there with a veteran group. You get to kind of mixing and matching, doing your own thing sometimes with different games. You know that just two years ago, you were looking at the next guy and he was looking at you and you didn't know what was going on. Coach is screaming and you're just looking like, 'I don't know.' You know? And to be where you're at now  fifth-year seniors and five seniors in the room  it makes life a lot easier."

Whitaker has adapted in his fifth year.

"I'm good. I feel like I'm a competitor in many ways," he said. "But I feel like my number is called, I know what Jeff Whitaker can do. And we know what Jeff Whitaker can do."

Whitaker's game is now best suited to stop the run. When teams are passing, he's watching.

"But for me, these are my teammates that are out there playing,' Whitaker said." These are the guys that I've built a relationship with, so I think the best way I can say it is, 'At the end of the day, I know what I can do. I know what I'm about.' So it's no hostility, jealousy or anything like that. 

"I know at the end of the day, I know that Jeff Whitaker can play ball."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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