Auburn, Ala.--LaDarius Owens said that he is trying to follow the path to success as an SEC defensive end blazed by his former roommate.
Last season as a junior Owens shared a dorm apartment with Dee Ford, who led the Southeastern Conference in quarterback sacks while earning all-league honors with a breakout performance as a senior after overcoming a preseason knee injury.
“I have got to do even better--I have to override my former roommate,” Owens said with a laugh.
Ford is a rookie with the Kansas City Chiefs after being selected with the 23rd pick in the first round of the NFL Draft. “Dee and I talk every now and then,” Owens said of the former Tiger who was known for his work ethic, attention to detail and hustle on a football field.
“I learned a lot from Dee just being his roommate,” Owens said. “We got real close last year because we were in the dorm together just across the street (from the football complex). We did a lot together. I got to see how he developed his game so that taught me what I need to do.”
Asked if he thinks he can develop into a difference-maker for the defense like Ford was in 2013, Owens said, “Yes sir. Last year was really my first year to get on the field. I was just trying to get my feet under me and understand the game more.
“Now that I am out there it has slowed down so much for me,” said Owens, who made 30 tackles with 2 1/2 quarterback sacks and 11 QB hurries while starting a dozen games in 2013.
“I am just trying to get the fundamentals done and just let the rest of the game come to me,” he added. “Honestly, I feel underrated so I am very driven and motivated.”
Owens was sidelined in spring practice while recovering from an injury. “They call it a Jones fracture, the fifth metatarsal cracked in my foot,” he said. “We had to have surgery on that.”
The defensive end also has been recovering from a stress fracture in his right tibia that required surgery in June. “I am back from that and that’s no problem,” he said. “I’m good to go.”
LaDarius Owens will be a fifth-year senior this fall.
The nephew of former Tiger fullback James Owens said, “I’m glad and pleasantly surprised I’ve been able to fly around as good as I have been the past couple of days and hopefully I’ll just continue to get better. I haven’t had any setbacks or drills I’ve had to miss. I’ve been able to run at full speed so it’s been fun.”
Rodney Garner, who coaches the defensive line, said with Owens dealing with injuries and position changes he is not a particularly experienced defensive end.
“The biggest thing with LaDarius is he just hasn’t had a whole bunch of work,” Garner said. “We moved him eight days before the first game last year so he didn't get the fundamental work of that position.
“My understanding is he played it in the past, but being linebacker and doing that is two totally different things. Then, unfortunately, though he played for games for us (last season), he missed all of winter workouts and all of spring practice and then he was somewhat limited this summer.
“I just think the development of those times would have helped him improve his game,” Garner added. “I think it hurt so he is constantly trying to get the rust off of him.
“He has got to learn how to flip his hips, turn the corner and accelerate,” the coach noted. “They have got to respect his speed before he can work on counter moves so the biggest challenge is to get him to flip and turn that corner.”
After bouncing back and forth between linebacker and defensive end while redshirting as a freshman and the next two seasons, Owens notes he likes concentrating on one position. “I think this being my second year playing defensive end will make a big difference for me,” the senior said.
With the Tigers needing a pass rusher to step up with Ford gone, a big performance by Owens is exactly what the Auburn defense needs this fall.