Ability Not Enough, Tiger Cornerback Learns

Auburn junior Montae Pitts talks about becoming a leader in the secondary and preparing to face LSU.

Auburn, Ala.–-For junior cornerback Montae Pitts the 2005 season hasn't been an easy one. A returning starter on defense, Pitts lost his spot on the depth chart during two-a-days and has had to fight and claw his way back through hard work and determination.

That's something that wasn't associated with Pitts either of his first two seasons even though his athletic ability was plain to see. Even when forced to deal with the thought that he may not start this season, Pitts didn't change his habits until the realization that he better do something quickly before his college career was through.

"I have been through a lot," Pitts says. "As far as practices, the last three or four weeks I have been just trying to practice like I play in the games. Sometimes I would sort of slack off in practice, but I would show up in the games most of the time.

"Now I have been taking it to the practice field and onto the game field. That has helped me with the tempo. I am running around a lot faster and getting to the ball. That's helping me during the game.

"It has been coming to me," Pitts adds. "I'm halfway through this season and I have one more season left. I have to mature fast now. It has been helping me to go out there and work hard and try to get the other guys to work hard. Once they get older they're going to have to lead the young guys. I'm just trying to stay positive and pep them up when they're down. I'm just trying to coach them on technique and get them ready."

Pitts covers Calvin Johnson earlier this season.

That attitude is a far cry from the one that kept Pitts out of the lineup to start the season. Instead of going out and grabbing the job, he was passed up by Patrick Lee because of his efforts on the practice field. Always depending on his talent to get him by, Pitts says that now he understands it takes a full-time effort to be successful at this level as well as experience in game situations.

"I had a lot of raw talent," Pitts says. "But the more knowledge you have the easier it's going to be. Carlos (Carlos Rogers) knew the receivers' routes and what they were running. He studied a lot of film and had been out there for four years and had seen the same stuff.

"Once you've been out there so long you know what to expect on the down and distance. You can have a lot of talent, but your technique and knowledge of the game, once you get that down pat, the game is a lot easier."

The Jim Thorpe Award winner last season, Rogers was the player that few opponents threw at in 2004 because of the respect he had earned through the years. That meant Pitts got much of the action. While he didn't play poorly, there were times when he was beaten on plays. He always got help and input from Rogers, just one of the things he says helped him tremendously coming into this football season.

"I have been watching film and learned a lot from Carlos," Pitts says. "It just comes to you. You start clicking. I think I'm playing a lot better this year than last year. That's probably because I'm older and getting more knowledge.

"As a player you have to expect to get better, but if you don't watch film and practice hard you won't improve. I'm just learning, even from the younger guys, you can learn from anyone. We're just learning from each other. That helps you out as a player."

Despite not starting at all this season, Pitts has played well in his time along with fellow reserve Jonathan Wilhite and opposite side starter David Irons. Leading the group with 22 tackles and also adding an interception, there is little doubt that the Loachapoka native is playing the best football of his career and he knows that's the case.

"I feel better," Pitts says. "I feel a lot better than I did last year. This year I think we're doing pretty good as a pass defense and particularly in the secondary. With us rotating I think that's helping us. We're not that tired. We have fresh legs now. The rotation is helping us and we're maturing as the season goes along."

The secondary will face a tough challenge this weekend with a deep and talented LSU receiving corps to cover. With speedsters and big, physical receivers, LSU has the full arsenal of weapons at the position and Pitts knows it will be a big week for the secondary to play well.

"I see a lot of speed and a lot of talent," Pitts says of LSU. "It's hard enough going down there anyway to Death Valley and we have a young crew of corners, but they're maturing and getting better.

"We're rotating and not complaining about who's playing the most as long as we're winning and contributing to the defense. It's going to be a hard test for us. They'll probably be the fastest corps of receivers we'll face all season. We're pretty fast ourselves, but they have a lot of track stars out there. I think we'll hold up though."

Ranked just eighth in the league in passing, averaging 229 yards per game, LSU has the ability for making the big play at the most opportune of times. This season the passing game has accounted for 16 plays of more than 20 yards, seven over 30 and three over 40. The running game has been just as productive with 15 runs over 15 yards this season. Pitts says that Auburn's number one job is to make LSU work for everything they get on offense and if that happens his team will have a chance to come away with a victory.

"I think this is the ultimate challenge for the whole defense," Pitts says. "The secondary is the last line of defense so everybody sees the passes caught on the secondary. They're going to catch some passes. I don't think any quarterback will ever go 0-20. They're going to catch some passes, but we just can't give up the big play.

"They might hit one or two, but we have to forget about it and line up and try to keep them from scoring...with their type of speed one false move and it could be six. We're just going to try to be poised and clean with our technique and hopefully we can prevent the big plays."

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