Auburn, Ala.--One of the main focuses of spring football drills at Auburn will be to find a starting cornerback to play opposite junior-to-be Carlos Rogers, who is expected to be one of the top defensive backs in the SEC.
Position coach Phillip Lolley will be looking for replacements from a group that does not include last year's part-time starters, Roderick Hood and Horace Willis, who are graduating seniors. Also, top backup Rashaud Walker, a former starter himself, has graduated.
"My main thing for spring training is to find out who can step up into that starting role," Lolley says. "By the end of spring I want to know who I can depend on. Dependability means everything to me.
"It is not about playing with a flash of brilliance for a short amount of time," Lolley adds. "Anybody can go out there and make a great play, but a lot of times those guys who gamble and make a big play also give up two or three big plays. That is not what I am looking for. I am looking for consistency, breaking on balls, doing things right.
"That all starts with stance and starts--keeping everything in front of you and making tackles when the ball is caught. Of course, interceptions look good, knockdowns look good, but the main thing is to keep other teams from scoring."
Ages is following in the footsteps of Hood. Both of those players were option cornerbacks at Carver High in Columbus, Ga. Both walked on at Auburn and were awarded scholarships. Ages received his prior to the start of the 2002 season. A third walk-on from Carver, 5-9, 186 Gerald Williams, is also in the mix. He got onto the field for some mop-up duty at cornerback last season as a redshirt freshman after playing well in preseason practices.
Durham, a 2001 signee, saw almost all of his action last season as a redshirt freshman on special teams. Pitts, a 2002 signee, started his collegiate career at wide receiver, but moved to defense late last season.
Commenting on Ages, Lolley says, "Lamel does things right. There is not a prettier stance among any of them out there. His height (5-9) is always going to be a concern for everybody, but he can make up for that by doing other things. He is the type of kid who has great quickness, but he has to keep himself in position not to be overtaken by the big guy behind him. He has got to keep his body in position.
"I think it is very crucial for him at the point of attack to keep things tightened up," Lolley adds. ""He needs make plays and not get worn down. I notice late after he has gotten a lot of reps that he tires easily so I have got to get his muscular endurance factor up. I have to get him a lot of reps."
Lolley says he wants to see Durham improve his consistency. "It all starts with the backpedal, being able to break, knowledge of the game and not giving up the big plays and tackling well," the assistant coach notes. "He breaks on the ball as well as anybody at times, but there is more to it than just that."
Pitts, who is six-foot-one, 194, has the physical tools, but will need a lot of fine-tuning. He was a jack-of-all-trades type player in high school. "Montae has the height and he can run, but there is more to playing defensive back to that," Lolley says. "He has got to learn all of the little things--getting his hand on people, cutting folks off, moving his feet, being able to baseball turn in just an instant--things like that.
"The main thing that I have to find out is if he has the hips to play--to not have to slow down when he turns and makes a move because DBs will get turned around," Lolley says. "It doesn't matter how fast you are at that point. What is important is your quickness and understanding of the angles and what to do coming out of a troublesome situations. These receivers will turn you around."
Rogers tied for the team lead with four interceptions as a sophomore. The 6-1, 191 pounder from Butler High in Augusta, Ga., was credited with 34 solo tackles and 14 assists as a sophomore. He deflected eight passes and had two tackles for lost yards. He was a Freshman All-SEC pick in 2001.
Carlos Rogers has worked at getting bigger and stronger since arriving at Auburn.
"Carlos does have the experience there, but Carlos will have to hustle, too," Lolley says. "We won't hesitate to put the best two out there, whoever they may be."
Phillip Lolley came to Auburn in 1999 as a conditioning coach. He coached outside linebackers in 2000 and moved to the secondary in 2001.
Lolley says he wants to see Rogers improve in all areas of the game and step up his level several notches. "Carlos has a great awareness of all those things he needs to do," the coach says. "However, Lolley notes that there is definitely room for improvement. "The main thing I want him to work on is maintaining his leverage on the receivers with his hips," Lolley says. "When the guy does get him in a move, we want Carlos to explode out of it quicker and get his eyes and hands around and focused back where they need to be."
Rogers is likely to get some consideration for preseason All-SEC honors in 2003. "Carlos is a competitor and he does some great things out there," Lolley says.
By the end of the 2002 season, the cornerbacks and the entire secondary were playing very good football. Finding replacements for free safety Travaris Robinson and the missing starting cornerback will be two major keys to the success of the 2003 defense.
Part four of the series is scheduled for Thursday.