Sophomore Cornerback Making Progress

<b>Tiger Ticket</b>

Montae Pitts is showing signs that he will be an improved player for the 2004 Auburn football team.

Auburn, Ala.--It has taken him nearly two seasons, but speedster Montae Pitts looks as if he's finally found a permanent home at cornerback for the Auburn Tigers.

Recruited to play either offense or defense out of Loachapoka High where he was a quarterback, Pitts says that it has taken him a long time to get used to playing cornerback after playing wide receiver his redshirt season, but the adjustment is becoming easier everyday.

"Making the transition from wide receiver to corner, the receivers are fast," says Pitts, who notes that if he stumbles or makes a wrong step that his speed isn't always enough to help him recover. "If I stumble they'll run by me. It was a transition. I had to get used to the speed of the game.

"By the end of the season I started picking it up and reading the quarterback better. The bowl game helped me out. I wasn't even nervous, I was just anxious to get out there and show the coaches that I could play and get ready for next season."

A starter against Wisconsin last season, the 6-3, 203-pounder played a solid game in his only start. After practicing for almost a full year at defensive back, Coach Gene Chizik says that Pitts is coming around slowly and doing some things that are exciting to see.

"The conversion from a wide receiver to a defensive back is not a fast one," Chizik says. "You are used to running everything forward and now you are going backwards. At wideout you are used to where you're going and now you don't know where the guy is going. It's really a complete 180 turn. We just knew that we had to bring him along slowly and it's still a slow process, but you can see that there is some improvement there.

"I think he's come on a great long ways since this time last year. It's an evolution. He's evolving into a corner. I'm pleased with where he's at right now knowing that there's a long way to go. In the process of trying to develop a guy he's getting to a point of where he's understanding things better and he's technique-conscious. We're making progress."

Montae Pitts

Pitts says the process begins by watching film and studying his technique. That has been a learning process as well for the sophomore as he had to learn how and what to study. His latest study session led to a big day on Thursday as he had two interceptions in practice and make nice play after nice play in the secondary.

"This morning me and Coach Chizik met one-on-one," Pitts said on Thursday evening. "While I was waiting for him at 8 a.m. I watched one-on-one and then we watched pass skelly and team drills. We kind of broke my technique down. He showed me what I needed to improve on like keeping my pad level low. He just wants to see my explosiveness as I break on the ball, see my speed. I'm just trying to be consistent and the film session helped a lot."

With his improved play Pitts received several words of encouragement from Chizik during Thursday's practice, a long way from the practice fields last season when Pitts was a frequent receiver of less than positive comments from Chizik after making too many mistakes.

"As long as he's not fussing at me I'm okay," Pitts says. "But sometimes it's good that he fusses at me. Last year I got an earful so it feels good for me to make plays. I'm just trying to improve every day. I'm just glad I'm not getting an earful like last year. It was a learning process for me and I'm kind of fitting into the defense and just polishing my technique some."

Despite his shortcomings at the position, Pitts has shown a knack for making plays when the opportunity presents itself. Chizik says that he has an ability to play the ball while it's in the air, but he has to put himself in that position more often in the future if he wants to become the player he needs to be.

"Once you get comfortable with all the other things in coverage, playing the ball in the air becomes something you have to get comfortable with," Chizik says. "The first part of that is trying to get in position to play the ball in the air. We're working on that part (Thursday). He was running with receivers and putting himself in position to make plays on the ball. He made a couple of nice plays today. It's a process and we still have a long way to go with him. He's making strides."

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