Dee Ford

Has Auburn found someone better than Dee Ford?

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With Auburn’s spring game on tap for this coming weekend, have the defending SEC champions already found a replacement for Dee Ford, one of the top defensive players in the country last season? With Ford off to the NFL, Carl Lawson has stepped in to fill some big shoes this spring, and he is winning the respect of his teammates in the process.

“Carl’s a physical beast,” defensive tackle Gabe Wright said to Al.com. “Carl is definitely showing some traits on that left side, looking almost as good or better than Dee.”

Better than Dee?

Ford was named First-team All-SEC in 2013 who recorded 14.5 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks in helping to get Auburn to the BCS Championship Game. He finished the 2013 season second in the SEC in sacks per game despite missing the first two games of the season due to a left knee sprain. Can Lawson be better than that? He is certainly showing he has the work ethic to clear the bar. As a true freshman last season Lawson won playing time as the season progressed as he was named to multiple Freshman All-America lists at the end of the year. As good as he was, even Lawson believes he could have been better last season, and that thought should send fear down the spines of opposing offensive linemen and quarterbacks in the fall.

“I feel like now that I have more of an understanding of what I’m doing, I can coach (the rest of the line) up,” Lawson said to Al.com. “The older guys, too, they coach me up as well. I guess there’s nobody in particular I lean on. We all lean on each other.”

Time will tell just how much of an impact Lawson has on the Auburn defense in 2014, but this Saturday could provide a glimpse of what is to come as the Tigers wrap up spring practices with the annual spring game.

Auburn’s Dee Ford leads South defense to 20-10 victory in Senior Bowl

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Auburn defensive end Dee Ford had been recognized by the Senior Bowl earlier in the week for his efforts in practice all week, and he capped it off by helping to lead the South defense to a 20-10 victory over the North. Ford recorded a pair of sacks and earned Senior Bowl MVP honors to continue to build momentum heading closer to the NFL Draft.

Practices leading up to the actual game tend to carry more weight in player evaluations, but here are six players who made the most of their performance in the Senior Bowl, in no particular order.

1. DE Dee Ford, Auburn

Ford was difficult to slow down in this one. Much like his impact in the BCS Championship Game, Ford brought constant pressure in the North backfield and recorded a pair of sacks and batted down a pass. If any defensive lineman helped his draft profile with this game, it was Ford. Ford was named the Senior Bowl MVP.

2. RB James White, Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s running back led all players in the game with 61 rushing yards on 11 rushing attempts. He was the lone highlight for the game for the North squad as he scored the North’s only touchdown.

3. RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina

One of the top names from the FCS ranks playing this weekend handled himself well for the South team, leading the team in rushing with 31 yards.

4. QB David Fales, San Jose State

He did throw an interception, but he also had the arm that threw two of the biggest offensive plays in the game. Fales completed six of seven passes for a game high 104 passing yards and a touchdown.

5. DB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood

One of the biggest questions about Desir was how he would perform on the field against all of those big receivers from the big time programs. He did quite well, coming down with an interception in the end zone late in the game.

6. TE Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State

Colorado State tight end Crockett Gillmore made some nice plays when on the field, including two of the better catches of the game for the South. He also led all players with 61 receiving yards and snagged a touchdown catch from Fresno State’s Derek Carr on a pass that was slightly behind him on the run.

And here are three who left something to be desired in the game.

1. QB Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

For all of the talk about potential for Logan Thomas, the Senior Bowl showed much of what Hokies fans have witnessed the past few years. He did complete four of five passes, but for just 18 yards. Thomas took a handful of sacks as well for a loss of 38 yards.

2. QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson

Boyd failed to make any special plays in the game, completing a little less than half of his passes (7 for 16) for 31 yards. He was also intercepted once.

3. QB Stephen Morris, Miami

It must be an ACC thing. Morris joined his conference mates in having a rough afternoon in Mobile. Miami’s quarterback completed 9 of 16 passes for 84 yards and two interceptions in a game when no quarterback for the North team (yes, the North) struggled to move the offense against the South defense.

South dominating North in Senior Bowl, 20-3 at half

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As if you needed another example of just how good the college football talent is in the south, the South is leading the North 20-3 at halftime in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.

Alabama wide receiver Kevin Norwood has 42 receiving yards and a touchdown, but Colorado State’s Crockett Gillmore leads all players with 51 yards and a touchdown and two of the better catches in the half. Auburn defensive lineman Dee Ford has been having a productive game on the line, always finding his way in the backfield regardless of the North quarterback. Ford has a pair of sacks and a deflected pass right back in the face of Miami quarterback Stephen Morris.

Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr had a great week of practice and has established some momentum heading closer to the NFL Draft, and he tossed the first touchdown of the game midway through the first quarter. Carr’s pass was slightly behind Gillmore on the run, but the Rams standout managed to get his hands on the football and run the rest of the way to the end zone on a 17-yard scoring play. The other touchdown of the half was tossed by another Mountain West quarterback, San Jose State’s David Fales. Fales managed to find a wide open Norwood while on the move to get away from pressure midway through the second quarter.

Auburn kicker Cody Parkey has kicked two field goals, one from 50 yards and a second from 39 yards, to help pad the South lead.

Senior Bowl recognizes Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald’s practice efforts

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Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald will have to make room on his trophy shelf for at least one more award. Donald was named the top practice player at the Senior Bowl practices this week.

“Donald is a very explosive defensive tackle,” said Mike Smith, the coach of the Atlanta Falcons, in a statement released by the Senior Bowl. The Falcons coaching staff is coaching the North team in this year’s Senior Bowl. “I’ve been very impressed with him. He’s short in stature by NFL standards and doesn’t maybe have all the measurables, but he’s one of the more explosive guys we have on the North squad. He’s done a very nice job both in the running and the pass game.”

Donald cleaned up on the college football awards circuit. He was named the winner of the Outland Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Award, Lombardi Award and Chuck Bednarik Award in addition to being named ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American.

The Senior Bowl also handed out awards for the top players by position. Auburn’s Dee Ford was named the most outstanding defensive lineman, which is somewhat humorous considering Donald is also a defensive lineman. Northern Illinois defensive back Jimmie Ward, West Virginia running back Charles Sims, Iowa wide receiver C.J. Fiedorowicz, Notre Dame offensive lineman Zach Martin, Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland and Auburn kicker Cody Parkey have all been recognized for their performance in practices this week as well.

Last year’s top practice player at the Senior Bowl was Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher, who went on to be the number one overall draft pick. Donald may not be the number one pick in this year’s upcoming NFL Draft, but his stock certainly could not be much higher at this point. With NFL scouts and coaches gathering at the Senior Bowl, what a potential draft pick does during practices at the Senior Bowl tends to carry more weight than anything that happens during the actual game, although ending the week on a high note with a solid game performance certainly helps.