Pittman: 'I feel more accepted'

WESTMINSTER -- David Pittman completed a bruising session on the blocking sled, his hands stinging slightly from the apparatus' recoil as he worked on his jam technique. Shedding his shoulder pads, the Baltimore Ravens' second-year cornerback was sporting a "Mighty Mouse" T-shirt with the pint-sized cartoon hero striking an ultra-confident pose.

If only Pittman felt like Mighty Mouse every day instead of a high draft pick whose disastrous rookie campaign drew heavy scrutiny and criticism as he didn't play in a single game.

Although Pittman is one of the team's most athletic defensive backs, he arrived last year unprepared for the heavy demands of an elite league. As he tried to adjust from being a Division I-AA star at little Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La. , something got lost in the translation.

One year later, Pittman is determined to prove himself. So far, team officials have been impressed with his rededicated approach to football.

"Yeah, some guys are ready for it and some guys aren't," said secondary coach Dennis Thurman, who played cornerback in the NFL for nine seasons, mostly with the Dallas Cowboys, and intercepted 36 passes. "The lights may have been a little too bright for David last year. He had a tough beginning, but the guys hung in there with him.

"He has started to understand what it is to be a pro, and his attitude has been 100 percent better than it was at this time a year ago. I think he has a bright future. He's very talented. He just has to continue to work toward what it takes to play in the NFL."

Pittman became a fixture on the inactive list last year. Although he made the team after a slow recovery from a hamstring injury, he was never called upon to play and drew complaints about his practice habits and film study.

So, he went from All-American status and being the lone I-AA defensive back invited to the prestigious Senior Bowl to a bench-warmer in the coaches' doghouse.

"You have to take your game to another level, and this is the top level for this sport," Pittman said. "You have to take your game up higher. I was the guy at Northwestern, but that doesn't matter now. It doesn't change who I am.

"I'm just working hard to be like guys like Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle. My work ethic, studying habits and ability to anticipate and react, all of that has gotten better."

The Ravens drafted Pittman with the 87th overall pick of the draft in the third round last year. They envisioned him instantly becoming their nickel back, but veteran Corey Ivy easily beat him out.

By the end of the season, there was little discussion about the promise the Ravens saw in Pittman, who intercepted 11 career passes in college and scored four touchdowns along with his 147 tackles and 26 pass deflections.

When asked about Pittman at the Ed Block Courage award banquet, defensive coordinator Rex Ryan barked: "We got nothing out of David Pittman. He's got as much ability as most guys playing in this league. It's up to him to grow up."

Now, the Ravens have recognized a newfound maturity in Pittman, a 23-year old native of Gramercy, La.

However, another hamstring injury kept him out of minicamps and curtailed his progress. Healthy again, Pittman is challenging for playing time as a reserve cornerback trying to catch up with Ivy, Ronnie Prude and Evan Oglesby.

"He's coming around," Thurman said. "The hamstring injury set him back, but we were all impressed by his work ethic in the offseason.

"He spent time here, didn't go back home. He was committed to getting better. David is coming around."

Added Prude: "We definitely accept David as one of our own. He's getting much better."

Pittman's skills aren't in question, just his consistency.

He has the requisite size at 5-foot-11, 182 pounds, and he's plenty fast enough.

During Wednesday's practice, Pittman was praised by assistant secondary coach Mark Carrier for chasing down a pass meant for Mark Clayton. He knocked down a Kyle Boller post pass intended for Devard Darling, displaying good recovery speed.

"He's a great natural athlete," Thurman said. "He has quick feet, wonderful change of direction, can cover man-to-man.

"If David understands what it means to be consistent and do his job play in and play out, it's a matter of us incorporating what he can do into our scheme."

As another symbol of a fresh start and a nod to the extreme heat of his hometown, Pittman shaved off his dreadlocks in June and now sports a close-cropped haircut.

"The heat was unbearable," said Pittman, who has three cousins who played professional sports, including the NFL, Arena Football League and the Cincinnati Reds' farm system. "I wanted to try a new look, too."

Nicknamed "Pitt," the former All-Southland Conference selection is eager to prove himself and erase the poor reputation he was tagged last year.

"I have learned patience, and I have relaxed," Pittman said. "I feel relieved. I have come a long way from where I was last year. I'm a lot more confident.

"Everything is starting to come around. I'm feeling a lot better. I'm a lot more accepted than last year."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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