BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. – It was time for a change, and LaDarius Owens finally got his way after two years of waiting.
A former defensive end, Owens dropped 15 pounds in strength and conditioning Ryan Russell’s system and has switched to mike linebacker, working in behind starter Jake Holland and reserve Chris Landrum.
He doesn’t plan on sitting for long, though.
“I didn’t move to linebacker to watch or to just add depth. I want to compete,” Owens said. “And that’s why I put in so much time off the field to study and watch film.”
Owens, the nephew of Auburn’s color barrier breaker James Owens, ate only grilled food for three months as part of a diet-exercise program to slim down to 243 pounds. He’s never played linebacker before, but being that everybody’s new to defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s system, the junior from Bessemer, Ala. feels he’s not that far behind the curve.
“Coach Johnson is a good teacher. He made it make sense,” Owens said. “Those guys learned it from 4-3 into the 4-2-5. This is my first system as a linebacker, so I’m able to absorb it. They have to change some of the verbiage they had last year to this one, so it’s easy for it to stick to me and me to learn it.”
Star search: One of the happiest guys in the locker room to see Johnson bring his 4-2-5 defense to Auburn was junior Justin Garrett.
Just not at first.
“Once he got hired, somebody told me about his defense and that it was a 4-2-5 and they play a third safety,” Garrett said. “When I saw that, I knew it was the perfect position for me and my teammates told me it would be the perfect position for me.”
Garrett, a spot linebacker last year, has been working with the ones in practice at star, backed up by Javiere Mitchell.
Senior step-up: Malzahn is starting to see some leadership develop, at the right places.
“I think our seniors are the group that’s really trying to lead this team and that’s very encouraging for me,” Malzahn said. “We’ve had quite a few meetings with our seniors – they want it to be a new day and they’re gradually starting to take charge of their team.”
Kick into high gear: Even the field-goal units have to learn the language of ‘fast’ in Gus Malzahn-led practices. An early-period drill calls for eight consecutive field-goal attempts in about 2-3 minutes.
“The first day, he told me I was holding up the whole drill,” senior kicker Cody Parkey revealed. “So that was in the back of my mind today, spring from side to side. I can’t rush my steps, so it probably makes him a little mad, the fact I have to take my time. But I’m trying to go as fast as I can for him.”
Senior punter Steven Clark is practicing some holds, but the primary holder remains senior Ryan White, a cornerback who didn’t drop any snaps in 2012.
“We just want to get out there, do our job and get off the field,” Parkey said. “So pace is going to be big-time, even for special teams.”
No special treatment: Running back Cameron Artis-Payne, offensive guard Devonte Danzey and defensive tackle Ben Bradley each had junior college credentials more than worthy of being welcomed to Auburn’s spring squad as early enrollees.
None of the trio has been promised anything, however, and all three are a bit behind the pack in terms of pecking order at their respective positions.
“They’re doing OK. They’re like the young guys coming in who have not been part of the system, so they’re learning,” Malzahn said. “I feel pretty confident that, halfway through spring, they should start to get more comfortable.”
Third 2014 commit: Very late Sunday night, Auburn picked up its third 2014 verbal commitment in 6-foot-1, 280-pound offensive lineman Joshua Casher, according to the recruiting web sites that cover Auburn.
A three-star prospect from Mobile, Casher joins running back Kamryn Pettway and punter Jimmy Hutchinson (who will enroll next January) in the class.