Pittman to get surprise start vs. 'Skins

Disappointing cornerback aims to finally measure up to rest of 2006 draft class

August 22, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN REPORTER

With Samari Rolle expected to miss the final two preseason games with an ankle injury, the Ravens have decided to start David Pittman at cornerback, the team's most surprising move this preseason.

Pittman, a third-round pick in 2006, was a major disappointment last season when he failed to take control of the nickel back job and fell to the bottom of the depth chart.

But the Ravens picked Pittman to start Saturday at the Washington Redskins because they want to see how he responds to the challenge.

"It's definitely his time to step up, and he knows that," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said.

Pittman was inactive for every game last season because he struggled with his confidence and injuries.

With Pittman on the sideline, veteran Corey Ivy became the nickel back (third cornerback) and undrafted rookie Ronnie Prude played a key role as a backup cornerback.

After missing a chunk of this year's minicamps with a hamstring injury, Pittman still didn't seem to make a dent in the depth chart, ranking behind Chris McAlister, Rolle, Ivy and Derrick Martin throughout training camp.

So, when secondary coach Dennis Thurman told Pittman a half-hour before yesterday's practice that he would be replacing Rolle, Pittman was pleased.

"It wasn't like `Wow, I can't believe that he chose me,'" Pittman said. "I was just really excited about the chance to be out there with those guys."

If it were a regular-season game, the Ravens likely would have started Ivy, who stepped in for Rolle when he was injured Sunday.

But the Ravens want to gauge how much Pittman has grown. He has had a difficult time adjusting to the NFL after coming from Division I-AA Northwestern State, thinking the game was too big for him at times.

"He's got to know that he can do it and play to our tempo," Ryan said. "He has to understand the responsibility he has, when he steps on that field, to all of his teammates. Sometimes that's a big thing, but that's what he signed up for."

Pittman's teammates have offered him support.

Rolle talked to him after yesterday's practice about putting his first start in perspective.

"I told him, `Football is football. Everybody tries to make it out bigger than life, but when you're out there on the field, it's the same game that you've been playing all along,'" Rolle said. "I think David has the potential to be a good player in this league or else [general manager] Ozzie [Newsome] and them wouldn't have brought him here. He just has to believe in himself, and once he does that, you will see his true ability show."

Pittman's run with the starters should be a short one.

Rolle, who had his right ankle wrapped, didn't appear to favor the leg while walking around the locker room. He said that he's "totally optimistic" about being ready for the season opener in 18 days.

"[The ankle] feels a whole lot better," said Rolle, who hasn't missed a regular-season start since 2004. "I'm totally relieved. Personally, I feel like I'm playing to get my name back and just to show everybody that I still am an elite player in this league."

Pittman understands the need to prove himself.

From the Ravens' 2006 draft, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (first round), guard Chris Chester (second), safety Dawan Landry (fifth) and punter Sam Koch (sixth) are already starters. Receiver Demetrius Williams (fourth) is primed for a breakout season.

The one question mark of this draft class has been Pittman, who has watched less-touted cornerbacks pass him on the depth chart.

"From a personal standpoint, it was kind of tough," Pittman said. "But you have to sit back and try to understand what's going on. I think some of it was I didn't come in and do everything that was expected of me."

Now, Pittman has a prime opportunity to live up to those expectations and build upon a solid preseason.

In Sunday's loss to the New York Giants, Pittman played tight coverage and broke up one pass. His one misstep was nearly being called for pass interference on a deep throw.

Sitting in front of his locker yesterday, Pittman soaked in his first day with the starters and started visualizing his performance for Saturday.

"I am looking forward to this weekend," Pittman said, "and all the possibilities that it holds."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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