The junior from Hinsdale, Ill., has improved steadily since arriving at Auburn as a walk-on who tried out for the football team as a wide receiver because the Tigers were looking for help in that area when he arrived as an invited walk-on. However, prior to spring training in 2003, Letts requested a move to defense, where he felt more comfortable, and earned praise from Chizik for his steady improvement as a safety that spring. Based on his play in preseason this year, Letts should be better than ever when the Tigers open the 2004 season on Sept. 4th.
"So far everything has gone well," Letts says. "I am trying to get back into the swing of things with the full pads on and everything. I am trying to get the feel of the defense."
Like most of his teammates, Letts was on campus all summer working out and he says that he is glad he did. "It went really well," he notes. "Coach Yox (Kevin Yoxall) had us do a lot of good stuff. Everybody got bigger, stronger and faster. I feel like personally I got bigger, stronger and faster. I gained about seven pounds. I am 6-1, 207 now. Everybody did everything Coach Yox asked us to do. We did a good bit of running and a lot of agility drills."
Last season he contributed 16 tackles with seven coming on special teams as he played in all 13 games. Chizik says he feels good about the play of the safeties and Letts is one of the reasons why. Chizik has both of his returning starters to work with in Junior Rosegreen, a senior, and Will Herring, a redshirt sophomore.
Like Chizik, Letts says safety should be a solid position for the defense this season. "We have got a few really good safeties--guys with experience," Letts says. "Junior and Will definitely have a lot of experience. They have started. The same is true with Donnay (Donnay Young, who has started before. Kevin Hobbs is back there at safety and he has started for us at cornerback. We have got a lot of guys back there who can contribute. I feel like right now I am the number five safety trying to compete with those guys and that is going very well."
Letts is listed as a strong safety on the roster, but he feels comfortable at either position. "In our defense the strong safety and the free safety are pretty much interchangeable," he says.
The defense has significant rebuilding to do with the Tigers having to replace three of their four starters on the line and two of the three starting linebackers. Head coach Tommy Tuberville says that is a concern. Letts says he likes his group's potential.
"We did lose a bunch of great guys who are in the NFL now, but we have a bunch of great guys who are replacing them. We have a lot of linebackers with speed. We have a lot of good leaders on the defensive line. I think our defensive backs will be a strong part of our defense because we have so much experience there."
Even though he is behind seniors Rosegreen and Young on the depth chart, Letts says he is not discouraged. "Everybody would like to be a starter, but that is not the way it is going to be," he says. "Everybody has a role on the team. I know that my role right now is as a backup to Junior, Donnay, Will and them. I feel like the better I get, the better they are going to get so I am just trying to make myself as good as possible in case the situation comes up where I need to be a starter.
"Playing on special teams is one of my big roles on team," Letts adds. "I should start on punt return, kickoff and kickoff return teams and hopefully on punt. I like to be on the field as much as possible."
Letts has been a steady performer in preseason practices.
Chizik says that Letts has made significant improvement as a defensive back and Letts agrees. "I feel like I am light years ahead of where I was at this time last year," he says. "I am a lot more comfortable in the defense. I feel like one of my strong points is how well I know the defense having been in it more than a year now with two spring practices and one full season.
"There is a lot of stuff that I am working on," he adds. "There are still things in the defense we are modifying. I am working on open field tackling, which is a big part of being a safety, as well as pass coverage."
Tiger Ticket Extra: Letts has gained 12 pounds since spring training 2003 when he caught Chizik's eye as a player to watch...The Illinois native had originally been recruited out of Hinsdale Central to play football for the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. However, before he was able to enroll at Army, he needed additional classes and did that at the U.S. Military Prep School in Virginia. He played at the prep school during the 2000 football season, but had a change of mind on his collegiate destination. Former AU defensive coordinator John Lovett's coaching contacts helped steer Letts to AU. Another incentive to come to AU is the fact that his mother is a 1972 AU graduate...As a senior, Letts played on the first football team in Hinsdale Central High history to go undefeated in the regular season...Letts has an older brother named Preston who played middle linebacker for three seasons at Northwestern and one at the University of Rhode Island.