Second-year Ravens cornerback David Pittman passed his first test Saturday night when Redskins receiver Santana Moss beat him for a 40-yard reception on Washington's first play but wasn't heard from again. It was a pretty impressive debut for Pittman as a starter.
Now, will he pass the second test?
One-game wonders don't last long in the NFL. The good players play well weekly, and the great ones dominate for years.
For Pittman, it has to start one game at a time.
"He has to go out and do it again, play after play after play," Ravens secondary coach Dennis Thurman said. "A string of good plays can lead to good quarters, which can lead to good halves, which ultimately leads to complete games. When you do that, people will begin to take notice. With his ability, and the progress he has started to show right now, he has a chance to become a very good player."
After giving up the completion to Moss, Pittman settled down. The Redskins tried to connect with Moss on another long pass a few minutes later, and Pittman was with him stride for stride. Washington also tried to burn him with a long pass to receiver Antwaan Randle El, but Pittman had Randle El blanketed, too. Pittman also came up and played strongly in run support.
After the strong showing, Pittman is much more confident than a week ago when it was first announced that he would start.
Over the weekend, he got a thumbs-up from veteran cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle and safety Ed Reed after watching film.
"Usually, I always come in the next day, get me a workout in and look at film," Pittman said. "Even if I don't play, I look at film because there is always something you can learn. Some of the veterans told me I did a really good job, especially for the first time being out there with the ones [first unit]."
Pittman's play also produced a temporary sigh of relief within the organization. He had become the black sheep of the 2006 draft class. Other high-round picks defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (first round), center-guard Chris Chester (second) and receiver Demetrius Williams (fourth) contributed last season, but Pittman was inactive for all 16 games.
Skeptics wanted to know what the Ravens had seen in this cornerback out of Northwestern State to take him in the third round. The word "bust" and Pittman were starting to become synonymous.
Thurman said Pittman had a lot of maturing to do.
"His greatest weakness was not playing against the greatest competition coming out of college," Thurman said. "Coming up here, he knew how good he was, but he was also finding out how good these receivers are. He was getting beat by Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, and then having to go back up there against them without having success. It took some growing up. He had to learn that he really had to work if he wanted to succeed."
Pittman is getting taught by some of best in the league. Reed is a Pro Bowl safety. McAlister, one of the league's top corners, took Pittman aside the day before the Redskins game to talk about anything that might be bothering him. After Moss caught that long pass, McAlister was the first to tell Pittman how important it is for cornerbacks to have short memories.
The player who might end up helping Pittman the most is Rolle. Despite being in good positions to make plays against the Redskins, Pittman failed to attack the ball. He couldn't finish. He has had that problem since Day One with the Ravens.
When he was in Tennessee, Rolle closed on the ball better than any other cornerback in the game. His judgment and vision were excellent when it came to finding the ball.
"I was in Moss' pocket; the next time I have to go get it," said Pittman, referring to the ball. "The next time out, I've got to attack it. But this week, I feel more comfortable. Last week, I had the jitters."
Besides attacking the ball, Pittman also learned another lesson.
"Football is still football," Pittman said. "With the X and O's, nothing has changed except the talent level. But once you get comfortable, everything should be fine."
At least for now and until Rolle recovers from an ankle injury, Pittman is back and high on the Ravens' radar screen. Thurman has always liked Pittman's speed and ability to change direction. He also liked the way Pittman rebounded after the long pass to Moss.
"I have seen some good corners and played with good corners who had long balls caught on them early in their careers, and then they went in the tank," Thurman said. "What you're looking for is the kind of guy who can rebound once something negative happens to him. I want to know are you capable of bouncing back when someone has success against you, yet you also know that you're going to win your share if you continue to trust in your own technique and athletic ability."
In a sense, the Ravens want Pittman to build off last week but forget about it once the whistle blows Friday night. They want him to improve his technique as far as taking on blockers, and finding the runner. Because of his size, Pittman's technique must improve, or he won't last long in the NFL.
"Needless to say, we were impressed, but it was just one game," Thurman said of the 5-foot-11, 182-pound Pittman. "David has a long way to go. He has some things he needs to continue to work on, but it was a good start for someone who saw his first extended action as a starter."