The redshirt freshman quarterback was trying to hit a sideline route to another redshirt freshman, wide receiver Courtney Taylor. At first it looked like the pass was going to be a completion, but Pitts outran the football and with a head first dive caught it and rolled to the ground with an interception as Taylor tried to grab it away. However, Pitts wasn't going to let anybody get that ball away from him.
That was just what defensive coordinator Gene Chizik was looking for in the 11 on 11 passing drill near the end of Thursday's practice, the second of the preseason for the Auburn Tigers. Chizik sprinted across the new artificial turf field and yelled at Pitts: "Great job, son...that is what I am looking for."
Pitts, who worked at wide receiver last fall, is back for his second season as an Auburn Tiger as a redshirt freshman cornerback. He made the move at the end of the 2002 season and spent all of spring training getting accustomed to the spot he played at times as an all-around athlete at tiny Loachapoka High.
Pitts is in a battle for playing time at a position where the Tigers are looking for help. Carlos Rogers, the returning starter, has one corner spot locked down, but the other position could be up for grabs if Junior Rosegreen, last year's strong safety, doesn't play cornerback.
Right now, the plan is to keep Rosegreen at cornerback throughout preseason practice and through the opening game with Southern Cal. However, if one of the young cornerbacks like Pitts steps up and proves he can get the job done, that plan could change.
"Montae Pitts is making a lot of progress," Chizik says. "Right now in two days he has really done some nice things. It is night and day right now from spring practice to now. Typically, that is how it happens, especially for a guy who has really been an offensive guy. He has some ability. He has a long way to go right now, but he has definitely made strides in the first few days."
Pitts says he still has work to do. "I had an all right day. There are still little mental things," he says. "The game is so fast you have to get it right. Technique-wise, I think I did fairly well. There is still room for improvement."
Cornerback coach Phillip Lolley works with the Tigers on Thursday.
Pitts says he is feeling more comfortable at cornerback than he did in the spring. "I know what I am doing now," he says. "I am just going to take it from there and get better." He says with Southern Cal and its strong receiver corps on the horizon, led by star wideout Mike Williams, there is plenty of incentive for the cornerbacks and the rest of the secondary to be in prime shape. "They are highly talented," he says. "We are going to have to come with it and be physical because I know they are going to be physical."
At safety, there is a battle going on for the starting spots. "We are kind of rotating everybody around right now to get a feel for who is going to be playing those positions," Chizik says. "Right now we are working with five guys at safety. The older guys are Roshard Gilyard and Donnay Young and the younger guys are Will Herring, Karibi Dede and Andrew Letts. Those are the five guys we are looking at right now."
Chizik says he likes the look of the front seven and mentioned several newcomers as catching his eye. "Stanley McClover is doing well, Doug Langenfeld is doing well, Quinton Groves is doing well and Timmy Duckworth is coming along. It is a big learning process for all of those guys. We really hope they can contribute. They have got to." Duckworth is a tackle and the other three are ends.
The Tigers are working out in shorts and helmets as required their first week of practice.
In other practice notes:
*Quarterback coach Steve Ensminger was smiling after Thursday's workout. He says that is because the backup quarterbacks made huge strides in their passing accuracy from day one to day two.
*Chris Carr, a freshman wide receiver from Niceville, Fla., decided one day as a walk-on was enough. He left team and his spot on the 105 practice roster was taken by Evander Holyfield, Jr., another walk-on wide receiver. He is the son of the boxing champion.
*Construction crews were at work during practice putting the finishing touches on the landscaping around the new artificial practice field at the football complex. The early reviews from players and coaches have been enthusiastic. Tommy Tuberville says, "We probably could have gone out to the intramural fields today, but it would have been muddy and we got more done by working on the new field today." AU is expected to work on the artificial turf for the next three practices.
Wounded fullback Tez Doolittle watches practice on Thursday.
*Signee Tez Doolittle watched practice while wearing a sling to help his shoulder on which he had surgery last month. Doolittle plans to enroll at AU and start classes on the 20th and redshirt. He could be cleared to practice by October.
*Following the first two hours of practice, the team ran timed windsprints and then spent nearly an hour working on the kicking game. The Tigers are scheduled to practice at 10 a.m. on Friday and 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. Fan Day is 1-3 p.m. on Saturday at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.