The rangy 6-3, 184-pound sophomore from Pelham stepped up during the Blue team's 27-7 A-Day victory over the White squad before 31,757 on a cool and breezy Saturday afternoon at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
A day after moving ahead of senior Prechae Rodriguez to first team wide receiver, Billings responded with four receptions for a game-high 70 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown pass from veteran quarterback Brandon Cox. With the Tigers looking for receivers to develop more consistency and make big plays, Billings, Rodriguez and spring practice standout Rodgeriqus Smith made solid contributions in Auburn's annual spring game.
Rodriquez finished right behind Billings with four receptions for 64 yards while Smith caught three passes for 67 yards. Included in Smith's resume for the day was a 32-yard touchdown delivered by Cox on a play that Smith broke a tackle and reversed outside to race for about 25 of the 32 yards to the end zone after the catch. The effort by Billings, Smith and Rodriguez caught Tiger head coach Tommy Tuberville's attention.
"Montez had his best day in his two years here," Tuberville noted in post-game comments. "He is a big receiver who can get open in the middle of the field. His problem is being able to catch crossing routes and full-speed routes. He has been inconsistent with running routes, but he has been here two years now. He is going to have to be a factor for us. If you need six receivers going into the season, we are counting on him being one of the six. Today, he took a step forward of making a better showing for himself. He still has a lot of room for improvement."
Billings showed his ability to get open in the middle that Tuberville mentioned. He sprung open on a go route and pulled in a 38-yard strike from Cox to put the Blue team in business on the White 20-yard-line early in the second quarter. Billings was on the receiving end of a four-yard pass two plays later to set up his touchdown from the 23.
"It was a dig and in-cut route," Billings says in describing the TD on a play on which he found another opening in the middle of the secondary.
Montez Billings is shown as he heads to the end zone for a touchdown in the A-Day game.
To say that Billings was excited would be an understatement. "It was my first touchdown in a scrimmage, game or anything since I've been here," notes Billings, who was redshirted for 2005 season and caught three passes for 47 yards in limited action as a redshirt freshman in 2006.
Billings says he did okay in the A-Day scrimmage. He credits better focus for the improvement.
"I worked real hard and stayed focused this week," he says. "I kind of had a bad scrimmage last Saturday and needed to do something. I was able to come out and produce today." Billings uses the word "consistency" often in a self-evaluation. "I was kind of surprised when I was moved to first team. It is exciting, but I've got to keep being consistent and stay there," he admits.
Billings is also excited by the opportunity to be part of the rotation for an Auburn team that Tuberville says will have to throw more in 2007.
"That means all the receivers have to be consistent in scrimmages, practices and in games," he says. "The offense is getting a little easier for me and I'm hoping to be one of those six receivers Coach Tuberville is talking about."
Even with his impressive day Saturday, Billings admits he didn't reach his goal. "I want to be consistent and that didn't happen," Billings points out. "I dropped a ball on a hitch route." What he didn't mention was that there was a defender that was draped all over him on that play.
Tuberville talks about the receiving corps as a whole when discussing the possibilities they bring. "We have guys that can get the job done, but his is a hard offense to learn in terms of running routes and changing routes when the play is called," Tuberville explains. "We are looking for consistency out of all these guys. We don't have any superstars, but hopefully we will have five or six guys who will be able to make plays next year. We are going to have a guy to get it to them in Brandon . We are going to throw it a little more this year and I like this improvement we have made this spring."
Tiger defensive coordinator Will Muschamp noticed a difference in the offense Saturday after his defense had stuffed the offense most of spring. Billings was a factor in the offense gaining an upper hand.
"The difference today was the offense made big plays," Muschamp points out. "They've taken shots down field this spring, but haven't made the big plays like they did today. We were in a base defense and didn't do anything fancy, but you shouldn't allow big plays out of a base defense."
Offense coordinator Al Borges is cautiously optimistic about the play of Billings . "He definitely had his best day," Borges says. "He made several plays. We got him open and he went and got the ball. He's a rangy guy with a lot of ability. I won't say he came of age today, but I think he took a step in that direction."