Chizik Ready For Defense To Turn The Corner

Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik talks about Friday evening's scrimmage and the search for a starting cornerback opposite Carlos Rogers.

Auburn, Ala.–-By all accounts the defense had a much better day in Auburn's second scrimmage of the preseason, but you wouldn't know it by talking with Coach Gene Chizik. Despite giving up just 97 yards rushing on 40 attempts and another 169 through the air on 14-25 passing from the first and second teams, Chizik said that not having many of his veterans is putting a strain on the defense this preseason.

"It's good to get them on film," Chizik said of the young defenders, "but I would prefer to have some old ones on film. We've got so many guys that we know can play and we know what they can do, but we would like to get some continuity out here which we've had none of since the beginning of practice. That's a little bothersome."

Continuity is a long way off for the Auburn defense that had as many as seven potential first or second team defenders watching on the sidelines with minor injuries. Seniors Jay Ratliff, Bret Eddins and Doug Langenfeld were all held out of the action as were Stanley McClover, Marquies Gunn, T.J. Jackson and Carlos Rogers.

That meant more playing time for the young kids to show what they can do on the field. Up front the tandem of Pat Sims and Tyronne Green got a lot of snaps and both were visibly winded following the scrimmage. Neil Brown continues to play hard at end and could play his way into playing time this fall. Both Coach Tommy Tuberville and Chizik singled out a player in the secondary that has come on strong recently and is making a move to see the field despite being just a freshman.

"It's good to see some young guys come in there and work," Chizik said. "I think some of those guys are getting better like the Tony Bell's, guys like that. I can't, off the top of my head, think of any more. We've got a long ways to go and we're trying to get some young guys ready. It's frustrating at times, but we just have to keep pushing through and trying to get our guys healthy."

Nose tackle Josh Thompson had a solid day up front with four tackles, including one for a four yard loss.

There is little question that the cornerback position has become the point of emphasis this fall on defense heading into 2004. With the losses of David Irons and Courtney Denson in recent weeks, Chizik has turned to several different players to see who is going to take the job over. While that hasn't been decided, it looks as though one player has a head start on the rest of the field.

"Zach Gilbert is coming on like I said," Chizik said. "Kevin Hobbs is very rusty. I don't like the way he's playing at all. He's going to have to pick it up or he's going to end up not even being a starter for us. Montae Pitts I think is playing good. He's trying to get better everyday. It's not really Kevin's fault. He played it all last year though so I was hoping he'd be a little more in the swing of things, but he's not. We've got to keep working with him."

A big, physical defensive back, Pitts has the speed and quickness to become an exceptional cornerback on the college level. Because of his history on offense he is still learning the finer points of the position, but Chizik said that has improvement has been obvious since last spring.

"He's really improved," Chizik said. "We started him the last game last year (Wisconsin) and I think he's steadily improved. He's got a ways to go, but he's improved day by day and week by week. He's still got to fine tune in on concentration and things of that nature, but he's playing the game better than he was."

Pitts had the scrimmage's only interception, stepping in front of a Jason Campbell pass intended for Courtney Taylor. Middle linebacker Travis Williams had the most tackles in the scrimmage with seven. A leader on the field that gets everything out of the players around him, Chizik said that Williams is getting closer everyday to solidifying the starting job in front of Mayo Sowell and a steadily-improving Kevis Burnam.

"Travis is coming on and playing well," Chizik said. "He's got a ways to go too, but he's learning the position. Once he has it, he'll have it and he'll have it forever. It's a little bit of a transition for him, but I'm proud of what he's doing. Antarrious (Antarrious Williams) is doing a great job at Will (weak side linebacker) and Kevin Sears and Karibi Dede right now are doing a nice job at Sam (strong side linebacker). I'm not as concerned there as I am in the back. We've got to get some people that can play corner. I feel fine about safety."

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