Making A Move

Auburn coaches are hoping an important position change produces immediate results on the football field this season.

Auburn, Ala.--Sophomore Jay Ratliff has a lot work to do before the Tigers' September 2nd opening night date in Los Angeles against the USC Trojans.

In his freshman season Ratliff played in every game, including a start against Florida, and caught two balls for 20 yards against Ball State and also caught one for 18 yards against North Carolina in the Peach Bowl. However, at the beginning of spring drills Ratliff was moved to the extremely thin defensive end position from tight end.

The Tigers are blessed with a cornucopia of talent at tight end this season. The group includes senior Lorenzo Diamond, junior Robert Johnson and redshirt freshman Cooper Wallace. The Tigers also signed highly regarded newcomer Justin Bruce, who will likely redshirt but can still provide the team with a backup plan should injuries occur.

Jay Ratliff

The outlook at defensive end is not as encouraging. The Tigers must replace three of their top four players at the position because Javor Mills, Alton Moore and James Callier were seniors last fall.

When the 15 days of spring drills began last March, Ratliff started learning his new position. Despite a question about whether or not a highly regarded young tight end would want to move to defense, Ratliff says he couldn't be happier about the move. "Right now I'm really loving my new position. It's great and the coach (Terry Price) is working with me and he's really patient with me so I'm really loving it."

However, during his first contact drill at defensive end Ratliff injured his knee and missed all but the last week of spring drills. He was held out of the A-Day scrimmage, but the redshirt sophomore says that he will be ready to go this fall.

"I don't think that it is going to affect me at all," Ratliff explains. "I feel that I am fully recovered. I'm working out, I'm running and I'm moving like I should be so I think I'm 100 percent."

Head coach Tommy Tuberville says that the team is counting on Ratliff to come through this fall. "Jay missed most of spring, but he and Bret (Eddins) should give us pretty good depth at the strong end position."

Even with his injured knee at 100 percent, Ratliff says he still has a lot to work on to be fully prepared to play on defense opening night. "As far as assignments and recognizing the offense, I feel pretty comfortable," he says. "But as far as technique, I feel like I still have a lot of work to do in the fall."

Jay Ratliff was a multi-sport star at Lowndes High in Valdosta, Ga., prior to signing with the Tigers.

Ratliff says he needs to make up for missed practice time in preseason drills. "I think two-a-days are going to be very, very important for me to get stronger and get comfortable at DE and get better at my technique."

Even without being totally ready at this point, Ratliff's six-foot-five-inch, 252-pound frame along with his quick feet should serve him well at defensive end. And even though Ratliff knows that he must continue to work and improve his technique, he says that he has already learned some great lessons. "I think the most important thing that the coaches have taught me is being aggressive and firing off the ball and also keeping your hands inside of an offensive opponent," Ratliff tells Inside The Auburn Tigers.

Ratliff says that as a defensive player he really likes the opportunity to be the aggressor and finally get in some shots on opposing players. "Yeah, I really like to hit people, I'm a contact person. I just really love contact."

However, Ratliff says that he will miss being on the offensive side of the football, especially after playing there for so long. "Yeah, I do miss tight end, but this is another opportunity for me to play and start and help out the team. So I'm definitely going to take it."

Along with other Tiger defensive players Ratliff also seems to be excited about defensive coordinator Gene Chizik's new scheme. "This year I'm expecting big things out of the defense," Ratliff says with a big smile. "Everybody is really excited about the new defense and how simple it is. It is just an aggressive style defense."

Ratliff says his personal game plan for the 2002 season is quite simple. "I want to get better during two-a-days and contribute to this team and start.," he says. "Those are my goals."

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