Auburn Defensive Linemen Show Improvement

The Auburn defensive linemen improved as a unit this spring despite injuries.

Auburn, Ala.-- Despite missing three potential starters in Nosa Eguae, Kenneth Carter and Gabe Wright, Auburn's defensive line gave perhaps the best performance and showed the most promise of any of the Tigers' units in the annual A-Day spring football game.

Dee Ford, who is working with the first team at end opposite Corey Lemonier, showed his potential in two quarters of play at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The junior took home the Mark Dorminey Defensive MVP Award after making four tackles and a sack against the first team offense.

With so many young players learning the defensive end position, Ford says he realizes how important it is that he takes a leadership role on defense.

"To be a leader, you have to step your game up, especially just knowing the defense," he says. "The speed of the leader is the speed of the pack. I will have to, as a leader, know my stuff. Therefore, it will carry over to the rest of the team."

With Eguae, Wright and Carter out for the spring, young players like Keymiya Harrell, LaDarius Owens, Devaunte Sigler and Angelo Blackson took advantage of the extra reps to try and impress position coach Mike Pelton and new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.

"I saw a lot of the younger guys come out of their shell," says Ford. "They are becoming more comfortable on the field, playing hard. Communicating is the biggest thing. I will always keep saying communicating is the biggest thing on defense."

Owens, who made four tackles and two sacks in the A-Day contest, spent spring practice improving his technique at the defensive end position, where he moved last fall after practicing at linebacker the previous spring.

"I'm enjoying it, getting more comfortable," Owens says of his new position. "I'm kind of used to it, getting the feel of it, getting my technique down. I'm just more comfortable now. I'm just getting used to the system we run now with Coach VanGorder, and I'm just letting it be friendly to me using abilities to the best."

Owens sacks Clint Moseley in the A-Day Game.

Since VanGorder has taken over as coordinator, Owens notes that the defensive front has become more aggressive.

"We don't really have to read blocks and hold blocks," he says. "We're just more into penetrating. Whatever happens after that, just let our abilities show."

Owens points out that having experienced players like Ford and Corey Lemonier to learn from has helped his development as a player.

"They're more experienced than me, been at the position longer than I have so I just take in everything they do, watch them and then I ask the questions to know on how I can get better at pass rushing or playing a block, or things of that nature," Owens says. "I just continue to do better every day. Hopefully, this fall I'll be able to help those guys out a lot."

VanGorder says it is important to have veteran players like Lemonier and Ford to show the younger guys the ropes.

"Young players, they like to see what it looks like," says Auburn's first-year defensive coordinator. "You can talk about it all you want, but it's important that they see what good play really looks like. That's a good way to learn.

"For Harrell to see those two guys right now, even L.O. (Owens), who's new to the position—it's good for them to see it so they have a visual and they understand what it really looks like."

Ford likes what he saw out of the defense in the A-Day game, but admits that the Tigers have a long way to go.

"We were flying around," he says. "I think we were very confident in what we were doing. Communication was great...still a lot of mistakes, but the biggest thing was we were flying around.

"Making a transition from reading to playing vertical and reacting more than just trying to figure out what the offense is doing," adds Ford of how the defense has improved over spring practice. "I think we're playing very fast right now."

The Tigers will try to carry on the positive momentum from spring practice into voluntary, off-season workouts, which Ford acknowledges are critical to a team's success.

"It's important since we've made strides to keep that going, not take any steps backwards," he says. "Take everything we do seriously because the coaches won't be here. This is when our leaders will step in and take us forward into fall."

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