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April 30, 2011

Carolina Panthers pick left tackle Lee Ziemba in seventh round of NFL draft

Left tackle Lee Ziemba was the fourth Auburn player off the board, being taken by the seventh round by the Carolina Panthers. He was the 244th overall pick.

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Ziemba, a 6-foot-6, 317-pound lineman, an All-SEC pick who made several All-American teams last year, anchored a line that helped Auburn set records in points, rushing yards and total offense.

He was the recipient of the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, given by the coaches to the SEC’s best blocker, and started a school record 52 games for the Tigers.

Ziemba reunites with quarterback Cam Newton, who was selected by Carolina No. 1 overall.

He’s the fourth Tiger to be drafted this year. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley was taken by Detroit in the first round, while linemate Zach Clayton went in the seventh round to Tennessee Titans.

Tennessee Titans take Auburn DT Zach Clayton in the seventh round of NFL draft

After six long rounds, Auburn finally had another player taken in the NFL draft.

Defensive tackle Zach Clayton went to the Tennessee Titans with the ninth pick in the seventh round of the draft Saturday. He was the 212th overall pick.

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The Titans weren’t one of four teams Clayton visited in the months before the draft, but Tennessee’s new defensive line coach is Tracy Rocker, who coached at Auburn the last two years.

Clayton, an Opelika native, had a strong senior season playing next to Nick Fairley. He had 28 tackles, 8 tackles for a loss and a sack.

He finished with 65 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks in his career.

He is the third Auburn player taken in the draft, joining Cam Newton, who went No. 1 overall to Carolina, and Fairley, who went 13th overall to Detroit.

Left tackle Lee Ziemba, wide receiver Darvin Adams, running back Mario Fannin and other former Tigers are still waiting to see if their names get called in the final round.

April 29, 2011

Auburn football players, Gene Chizik aiding cleanup efforts in Pleasant Grove, Cullman

A group of Auburn football players, head coach Gene Chizik and athletics director Jay Jacobs traveled to Pleasant Grove and Cullman, Ala., Friday to help cleanup efforts after deadly storms hit the state Wednesday.

Two buses carrying about 70 people, including approximately 15 football players, drove to sites west and north of Birmingham where tornadoes touched down two days ago.

“I think it’s important that we all bond together in circumstances like this,” Chizik said. “This is a tragedy. We weren’t put on this earth to be served, but to serve. So it’s important for us to come out to give back to communities in need and certainly this community is in need.”

Chizik, Jacobs, associate women’s basketball coach Kerry Cremeans and other football assistants were in Pleasant Grove, which was in the path of the same storm that hit Tuscaloosa.

The group volunteered at the Pleasant Grove First Baptist Church and Bethel Baptist Church, delivering clothes and over 500 cases of Gatorade and bottled water. They cleaned up debris and offered words of encouragement to those affected by the storms.

In Cullman, volunteers divided into groups and went to home to help remove trees from cars and clear debris from the area.

“It was devastating,” Chizik said. “I don’t even think you can accurately describe it to somebody the enormity, you have to see it. To see families displaced, lives lost, this is absolutely tragic. We’re just trying to give back.

“Today we tried to give back any way we could. We cleaned up some churches, and tried to go around to some different houses and talk to people who lost loved ones, lost houses and cars, to give words of encouragement is what we wanted to do today. Our message today was hope.”

Auburn’s players were in disbelief of the damage.

“It was a disaster,” wide receiver Trovon Reed said. “We saw so many folks without their homes. I experienced something like this before in the New Orleans area I experienced Katrina. Katrina was bad, we had water, but these people here are struggling and don’t even have water. From house to house, I saw a whole block that was gone. Being out here helping is a big thing.”

What did players say to people whose home were in ruins?

“Just to say to keep the faith, keep hope,” defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker said. “We believe in a God and we’re going to keep praying for them. We’re trying to help them to keep their confidence up and that we’re praying for them.”

The Tigers were originally scheduled to travel to the White House today to meet President Barack Obama. But those plans were postponed after storms caused massive destruction and killed hundreds. President Obama is in Alabama today surveying the damage.

“I’ve never seen devastation like this,” Obama told residents of Tuscaloosa. “We’re going to make sure you’re not forgotten.”

Auburn students have put their rivalry with Alabama aside to come to the aid of Tuscaloosa and other areas affected by the storm. The Facebook page “Toomer’s for Tuscaloosa” was founded by Auburn fans to organize cleanup efforts and set up a donation fund.

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April 28, 2011

New Detroit DT Nick Fairley speaks

And we conclude our night with some quotes from the well-dressed Nick Fairley, who the Detroit Lions took with the 13th pick:

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(What do you think about joining the Detroit Lions with some good young players — Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh?)

“I’m thankful that they came and picked me to be part of that group and I’m ready to get to work.”

(On chance to play next to Suh)

“He gave me some great pointers and for me to be next to him, he will hopefully take me under his wings and show me the ropes as a rookie.”

(You know it’s cold in Detroit …)

“Yes, I know it is, and I’m ready for it.”

(Detroit has made some great strides, do you look for that to continue?)

“I’m ready to go in there and get the work done and put the hard work and time into it, on the field and in the film room. Once I get there, I just can’t wait to see what happens.”

(What are some of your strengths?)

“Just being able to rush the passer, that’s one of the strengths I have, is a quick first step.”

(Were you shocked that you didn’t get drafted higher?)

“Actually, I’m just happy. I’ve been telling everybody that even though I went No. 13, it’s my No. 1 pick. I’m ready to go, I can’t wait to get to the ‘D.’”

New Carolina quarterback Cam Newton speaks

We just got some quotes from new Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton‘s press conference. Here they are:

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(Opening comments)

“I’m feeling great, I’m not going to lie to you. I’m ready to get this show on the road right now. I understand this is what this process is about. It’s a warmth in my heart knowing that I’m going to an excellent city and an excellent organization with excellent people around me that’s running the organization—Mr. Herndon, Coach Rivera—and I’m ready to do some work.”

(About this process)

“I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that you guys (media) have a job to do in critiquing each athlete to the core, but at the same time I’ve embraced this process understanding that everything is under a watchful eye right now from this point on.”

(If feels pressure to be starting QB this year)

“I can’t answer that question, but it’s a goal for me to consistently challenge myself to be get better on a daily basis. I don’t know when that call is going to happen, but each day I’m just going to go out and learn something about the offense.”

(What can you improve upon?)

“Just consistency as playing quarterback. This whole transition from the collegiate level to the NFL. I understand that preparation is going to be key and that’s part of the maturation process in this whole transformation. I’m willing to make that step and we’ll see how it goes.”

(When did you find out Carolina was to make you the overall No. 1 pick?)

“I found out about 15 minutes ago (when they called). I put closure to it 15 minutes ago. Like I said, I didn’t know. I thought you guys were going to tell me something, because I was out there in the dry. For a long time I would go to sleep, with questions like, ‘Where am I going?’ Just moments ago, I found out. As soon as Coach Rivera called me, it warmed my heart knowing that this deal is done and my work to some degree has paid off.”

(Were you happy to be No. 1?)

“Oh, absolutely. I’m more happy to say that with this organization I’m comfortable. That’s one thing I feared throughout this whole visit process.”

With everything you’ve been through, do you feel that you have a lot to prove….

“I’m not trying to prove nothing to no one, that I’m not trying to prove to myself. I understand that I’m my biggest critic.”

(It sounds like a burden)

“A burden? I’m relieved. I apologize if I gave you that impression. You just don’t understand how I’m feeling right now. What I really want to do, I can’t do it. I just want to scream.”

Detroit Lions nab Auburn DT Nick Fairley with 13th overall pick in NFL draft

Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley long wait finally came to an end.

Once considered the top-ranked prospect in the draft, Fairley dropped to the Detroit Lions with the 13th pick in the first round Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Detroit took Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh last year. He was an All-Pro his rookie season.

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Fairley, who won the Lombardi Award after finishing with an SEC-leading 24 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks, was a popular choice to go No. 1 in the draft immediately after the season. But his draft stock dropped, with teams citing concerns about his motivation and one year of production at the college level.

Many draft prognostications had Fairley going eighth overall to the Tennessee Titans, who hired Auburn defensive line coach Tracy Rocker in Feburary. But the Titans took Washington quarterback Jake Locker instead.

Fairley was the second defensive tackle to be drafted. Alabama’s Marcell Dareus went No. 3 overall to the Buffalo Bills.

Fairley was Auburn’s second first-round draft choice Thursday, joining quarterback Cam Newton, who went No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers.

It’s the first time Auburn has had at least two first-round picks in the same draft since 2005, when running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams, cornerback Carlos Rogers and quarterback Jason Campbell all went in the first 25 picks.

The Tigers have had at least two first-round picks in two others drafts: 1986 (running back Bo Jackson and defensive end Gerald Robinson) and 1998 (linebacker Takeo Spikes and tackle Victor Riley).

Check back for updates.

Carolina Panthers take Auburn quarterback Cam Newton No. 1 overall in NFL draft

As expected, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton didn’t have to wait long to hear his name called at the NFL draft.

Newton, who won the Heisman Trophy and led Auburn to a national championship in his only year as a starter at the Division I level, went No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on Thursday night.

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Newton became the fourth Auburn player to go No. 1 overall in the NFL draft, joining running back Tucker Frederickson (1965), running back Bo Jackson (1986) and linebacker Aundray Bruce (1988).

Newton is the first player to win the Heisman Trophy and national championship and be drafted first overall in the same year since Notre Dame’s Leon Hart in 1950.

It’s the 11th time in the last 14 years that a quarterback has gone No. 1 overall.

Newton spoke with Carolina head coach Ron Rivera and owner Jerry Richardson shortly before his name was announced.

“Just to get that phone call, it’s like a shock went through my body,” Newton said.

With his controversial father, Cecil, in attendance, Newton was able to celebrate at once with his entire family, a moment he didn’t have at the Heisman Trophy ceremony and following the BCS title game after pay-for-play allegations arose in November.

“I have had a lot of crossroads in my career,” Newton said before the draft. “And my loved ones, they pushed me through and helped get to where I am right now.”

The 21-year-old Newton was a dual threat for the Tigers, throwing for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns for Auburn last season and adding 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. But that led many to question if his skill set would translate to the NFL.

The Panthers, who had several meetings with Newton and even dissected film from his time at Blinn Community College, were not dissuaded.

Newton might be stepping into a situation where he could get early playing time. The Panthers’ other quarterbacks are Jimmy Clausen, a second-round pick out of Notre Dame last year, in addition to Brian St. Pierre and Keith Null.

Asked what’s next for him, Newton said: “I need to get to work. You’re hearing it from the horse’s mouth: It’s time to get to work now.”

Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley is also expected to go in the top 10. The Tigers haven’t had two first-round draft picks since 2005, when running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams, cornerback Carlos Rogers and quarterback Jason Campbell all went in the first 25 picks.

Check back later for more updates.

Auburn football team postpones White House trip; President Obama to tour storm damage

The Auburn football team’s trip to the White House has been postponed.

The Tigers were scheduled to commemorate their first national championship since 1957 by traveling to Washington D.C. on Friday to meet President Barack Obama.

Instead, Obama will tour parts of Alabama to survey the damage done by Wednesday’s deadly storms.

A makeup date for the Tigers to visit the president will be scheduled at a later time.

As a sign of goodwill, a Facebook page called “Toomer’s for Tuscaloosa” has been founded by Auburn fans looking to help the victims of the tornado that hit yesterday. The group is organizing cleanup crews to go to Tuscaloosa and will set up a donation fund.

Former Auburn stars Cam Newton, Nick Fairley to cap meteoric rise tonight at NFL draft

It’s NFL draft day. Or at least the first part of it. The first round starts at 8 p.m. ET tonight, with Cam Newton and Nick Fairley expected to go off the board quickly. Here’s how today’s story starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley will be in attendance at New York’s Radio City Music Hall for the first round of the NFL draft tonight.

By all projections, they won’t be backstage long.

The duo, which helped the Tigers win their first national championship since 1957, is expected to be selected in the night’s first hour and a half. ESPN begins coverage at 8 p.m.

After months of pre-draft fluctuation, the consensus among experts is that Newton will be the No. 1 overall pick by the Carolina Panthers and Fairley will go No. 8 to the Tennessee Titans.

It’s the culmination of a meteoric rise for both in the last year, from draft afterthoughts to potential franchise players. Neither Newton nor Fairley was listed among Auburn’s draft-eligible players to watch in the preseason by ESPN experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay.

Now, their imminent selections will mark the biggest first-round bonanza for Auburn since 2005, when running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams, cornerback Carlos Rogers and quarterback Jason Campbell were selected in the first 25 picks.

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We didn’t have a whole lot of space in the paper, so here’s what didn’t make it in its entirety. It’s a look at both Newton and Fairley’s draft stock since the start of August, using Kiper and McShay as barometers:

August, 2010

Of the 41 defensive lineman and 13 quarterbacks listed on Scouts Inc.’s preseason draft-eligible players to watch, neither Newton nor Fairley makes the cut.

Kiper writes that cornerback Neiko Thorpe is Auburn’s top NFL-ready player. McShay lists the Tigers’ top fully-evaluated prospects as left tackle Lee Ziemba, running back Mario Fannin and place-kicker Wes Byrum.

Oct. 27, 2010

After Auburn moves to No. 1 in the Bowl Championship Rankings with an 8-0 record, Fairley debuts at No. 8 overall on Kiper’s Big Board, a weekly ranking of the top players the analyst thinks will enter the NFL draft.

Although Kiper wrote about Fairley’s potential after his dominating performance at Mississippi State in September, this is the first time the tackle is mentioned with college football’s elite prospects.

“One dominating performance has become many,” Kiper writes. “Explosive, instinctive and with a great motor.”

Nov. 16, 2010

While Fairley moves up to No. 6 on Kiper’s Big Board, Newton cracks the top 25 for the first time at No. 15.

Newton is the Heisman Trophy frontrunner at this point, with 2,038 passing yards, 1,297 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns accounted for.

“Gifted physical talent with an underrated set of skills as a QB,” Kiper writes. “High completion percentage, great competitor, great size and proven winner.”

Only a week earlier, McShay did his initial first-round projection for the 2011 draft. Fairley is projected to go to the Indianapolis Colts at No. 24, while Newton is not listed.

Jan. 19, 2011

A little over a week after Auburn wins the BCS national championship, NFL mock drafts are in full force.

Fairley is the favorite of Auburn’s two stars. Kiper projects him No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers, while McShay tabs him as the No. 2 pick by the Denver Broncos.

“Fairley isn’t just a safe pick because of his excellent burst, violent hand action and ability to effectively penetrate and be a constant nuisance against both the run and pass; he also has the chance to be a dominant player regardless of system,” Kiper writes.

Newton starts at No. 10 to the Washington Redskins, a ranking Kiper writes “might be a bit high.”

March 16, 2011

With the combine over and Auburn’s pro day in the books, Newton and Fairley’s fortunes begin to switch.

Newton, who Kiper had previously projected as high as No. 3 to the Buffalo Bills, checks in at No. 4 to the Cincinnati Bengals on Kiper’s mock draft and No. 5 to the Arizona Cardinals on McShay’s.

“Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt witnessed first hand the impact Ben Roethlisberger made in Pittsburgh and he knows what a quarterback of with Newton’s size and mobility can do for an offense,” McShay writes.

Fairley, meanwhile, gets dropped to No. 2 to the Denver Broncos by Kiper and No. 8 to the Tennessee Titans by McShay, who writes that teams have been concerned with his interviews and calls the tackle “one of the biggest boom-or-bust prospects in this year’s class.”

April 6, 2011

The reversal is complete, as Newton claims the No. 1 spot in both Kiper and McShay’s mock drafts, even though both have their reservations.

“If talent alone was all they were concerned with, Newton would be an easy choice,” Kiper writes. “But this pick also requires a belief in his development and maturity. Certainly, however, Newton’s potential is significant.”

Fairley, meanwhile, locks in to the No. 8 pick, where he’d be familiar with Tennessee’s new defensive line coach, Tracy Rocker, who coached him at Auburn.

“Fairley is the most naturally gifted interior pass rusher in this draft and has a lot of upside, but the Titans need to decide if they are willing to take a chance on a player who could be a perennial Pro Bowler or turn into the next big DT bust thanks to questionable work ethic and football character,” McShay writes.

April 26, 2011

Auburn QB Cam Newton and DT Nick Fairley: Where will they go in the NFL draft?

The NFL draft’s first round begins Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Cam Newton and Nick Fairley will be in attendance, waiting to see where they’ll be picked.

It probably won’t take long. Almost all projections have both going in the top 10. Newton is a popular choice to be Auburn’s fourth overall No. 1 pick, joining Tucker Frederickson (1965), Bo Jackson (1986) and Aundray Bruce (1988).

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After lots of fluctuation early in the draft evaluation process, things have normalized in most mock drafts. Here’s a look at where Newton and Fairley might go, according to various projections:

Newton

Mel Kiper (ESPN): No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers
Todd McShay (ESPN): No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers
Peter King (Sports Illustrated): No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers
Don Banks (Sports Illustrated): No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers
Clark Judge (CBS Sportsline): No. 10 overall, Washington Redskins
Pete Prisco (CBS Sportsline): No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers
Rob Rang (CBS Sportsline): No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers
Chad Reuter (CBS Sportsline): No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers
Steve Wyche (NFL.com): No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers
Pat Kirwan (NFL.com): No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers
Bucky Brooks (NFL.com): No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers
Brian Baldinger (NFL.com): No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers
Pete Schrager (Fox Sports): No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers
Scout.com: No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers
WalterFootball.com: No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers
Sporting News: No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers

Fairley

Mel Kiper (ESPN): No. 8 overall, Tennessee Titans
Todd McShay (ESPN): No. 8 overall, Tennessee Titans
Peter King (Sports Illustrated): No. 8 overall, Tennessee Titans
Don Banks (Sports Illustrated): No. 8 overall, Tennessee Titans
Clark Judge (CBS Sportsline): No. 8 overall, Tennessee Titans
Pete Prisco (CBS Sportsline): No. 8 overall, Tennessee Titans
Rob Rang (CBS Sportsline): No. 8 overall, Tennessee Titans
Chad Reuter (CBS Sportsline): No. 8 overall, Tennessee Titans
Steve Wyche (NFL.com): No. 4 overall, Cincinnati Bengals
Pat Kirwan (NFL.com): No. 8 overall, Tennessee Titans
Bucky Brooks (NFL.com): No. 8 overall, Tennessee Titans
Brian Baldinger (NFL.com): No. 8 overall, Tennessee Titans
Pete Schrager (Fox Sports): No. 8 overall, Tennessee Titans
Scout.com: No. 6 overall, Cleveland Browns
WalterFootball.com: No. 12 overall, Minnesota Vikings
Sporting News: No. 8 overall, Tennessee Titans