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April 29, 2013

BROTHERS ARE RAMS: Emory Blake joins Lutzenkirchen, Bates in St. Louis

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BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

BIRMINGHAM – Depending on who makes 53-man rosters, Sept. 26 and Dec. 1 will be two dates for Auburn fans to watch in the 2013 NFL season.

St. Louis, which hosts its NFC West rival on the former date, signed tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, linebacker Daren Bates and wide receiver Emory Blake as unrestricted free agents within 48 hours of the conclusion of last week’s NFL draft.

Any and all former Tigers could face their longtime teammate, defensive end Corey Lemonier, selected in the third round Friday by San Francisco, the site of the second matchup this fall.

“It’s going to be cool to go into this with some familiar faces around you,” said Blake, who signed with the Rams Monday morning. “You can kind of go through it together, which is good.”

Lutzenkirchen’s family, from suburban Atlanta, hosted Blake, an Austin, Texas native, during their freshman season in 2009. As high school seniors, those two and Bates were together at Auburn’s spring football scrimmage – the first on-field appearance by ex-head coach Gene Chizik.

Bates, Blake and Lutzenkirchen won a national championship in 2010 as sophomores, suffered through a 3-9 collapse as seniors, and now will scratch and claw for a chance to jumpstart their professional careers in the same uniform.

“We all came in together, we’re all part of the same class and we’ve been through a lot together,” Blake said. “We’ve always been close.”

There’s a pipeline here: Rams head coach Jeff Fisher’s son, Trent, is a rising senior safety for Auburn.

“I’ve talked to Coach Fisher a few times. I’ve definitely seen his face around, we’ve had some conversations,” Blake said. “It was good to have a previous relationship with the coach and know what he’s like and how good a guy he is.”

The third of the trio to sign, Blake ranks fifth in school history in all three major receiving categories: 128 catches, 2,012 yards and 16 touchdowns.

“I knew there was a chance I wouldn’t get drafted. It wasn’t a shocker, but still definitely disappointing,” Blake said. “You want the best for yourself, you feel like you’ve done enough and worked hard, so of course it was disappointing for me.

“I’m just excited and happy for the opportunity.”

Lutzenkirchen’s 14 touchdown grabs are the most among tight ends in Tigers history. His career figures are 59 catches in 44 games, for 628 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Bates led the Tigers in tackles each of the past two seasons.

This isn’t the only Auburn undrafted tandem hoping to continue on together. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, tailback Onterio McCalebb and offensive lineman John Sullen signed with the Bengals.

April 27, 2013

Only one drafted player from Auburn, but six new assistants celebrate former pupils

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. — Six new Auburn assistant football coaches had a reason to smile and pump their fists for former pupils in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Now, of course, they’re tasked with ensuring their new team can get back to being a factory for professional prospects.

Defensive end Corey Lemonier was the lone Auburn player selected over the past three days – drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round Friday – matching the Tigers’ meek output from a year ago.

Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, tailback Onterio McCalebb, wide receiver Emory Blake and the rest of the outgoing Tigers become unrestricted free agents.

Auburn’s 16th-ranked recruiting class of 2009 (according to Scout.com rankings), the first of former coach Gene Chizik’s tenure, has had only one player drafted out of 27 commits: defensive tackle Nick Fairley, a junior college transfer who entered early for the 2011 NFL Draft and was picked by the Lions in the first round.

The only two players remaining on the active roster from  that class are defensive ends Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae.

But the new position coaches heard some good news.

EJ Manuel was Dameyune Craig’s quarterback at Florida State the past three years, and was a surprise selections by the passer-needy Buffalo Bills with the 16th overall selections.

In a quarterback-weak draft, Manuel was the first selected, going ahead of quarterbacks such as West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib and USC’s Matt Barkley.

Melvin Smith, previously the defensive backs coach at Mississippi State, saw Johnthan Banks (Tampa Bay) and Darius Slay (Lions) move on as 2nd-round selections. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s linebacker from Southern Miss, Jamie Collins, was also taken in the second round by New England.

Rodney Garner’s Georgia defensive line was represented twice in this year’s draft, by tackle John Jenkins in the third round (Saints) and end Cornelius Washington in the sixth (Chicago.)

Tim Horton’s tailback, Knile Davis of Arkansas, went to Kansas City in the third round and Charlie Harbison’s safety, Jonathan Meeks of Clemson, joined Manuel in Buffalo in the fifth round.

New head coach Gus Malzahn, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and offensive line coach J.B. Grimes came from Arkansas State. EDIT: A-State had a safety, Don Jones, selected 250th overall – or fifth-to-last – by Miami. The previous article saying the Red Wolves did not have a draft pick was incorrect. The writer regrets the error.

The coaching staff is rounded out by tight ends/special teams coach Scott Fountain, promoted from Auburn’s support staff.

April 26, 2013

Save me, San Francisco: Auburn DE Corey Lemonier drafted by the 49ers in the 3rd round

Corey Lemonier

AUBURN, Ala. – Corey Lemonier became the first Auburn player selected in the 2013 NFL Draft Friday night, taken late in the third round by the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers.

The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Lemonier, a defensive end who is considering making the switch to outside linebacker in the 49ers’ 3-4 scheme, was the 88th overall pick.

“In 29 years, we’ve never had a harder worker out here in Arizona than Corey,” said Eric Metz, Lemonier’s Scottsdale-based agent. “He would work out multiple times throughout the day, and then he would show up at 9 o’clock at night and play basketball for another hour, which nobody likes their football clients to play basketball, but he’s just a competitor on every aspect of things. He’s just a tireless worker.”

Lemonier teams up with Carlos Rogers, Auburn’s 2004 Thorpe Award winner who was taken ninth overall in the 2005 Draft by the Washington Redskins.

The 49ers’ current starting defensive ends are Pro Bowler Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, while it’s Pro Bowler Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks lining up at outside linebacker.

“Anybody that can rush the passer the way that he can is going to be a good fit for anyone,” Metz said. “There’s 100 players that thought they were going to go in the first round. So sure, everyone wants to go that high. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to go out there and play.”

Metz indicated the 49ers were a bit of a surprise suitor. He said the Atlanta Falcons were “extremely interested” in Lemonier, while New England, Tampa Bay and the New York Giants were also in the mix, but the 49ers did attend Auburn’s Pro Day on March 5.

“I don’t think they were one of the leading candidates because they did a very good job of concealing it, so to speak,” Metz said. “They obviously do a very good job of scouting in San Francisco, so I don’t think 20 more minutes of doing pass-rush drills at Auburn really would’ve changed anything. They already knew he could play.”

The 49ers traded up five spots with Green Bay to nab Lemonier, shipping the Packers a 7th-round selection in return.

Lemonier, 21, was a five-star defensive end prospect out of Hialeah (Fla.) in the class of 2010 after appearing in the Under Armour High School All-American Game. His best year came in 2011, tallying 13.5 tackles for a loss, 15 passes defended and five forced fumbles – earning him an all-SEC first-team nod from the coaches.

Those figures sank to 5.5 TFLs, one pass defended and one forced fumble his junior season. Lemonier had two sacks each in nationally-televised games against Clemson and LSU, but just half a sack in the final eight games.

“They ask me basically what happened that year, and I told them coming into the season, we had a dark cloud over our heads with the shooting and players getting arrested,” Lemonier said at Auburn’s Pro Day. “We didn’t have the talent to match up with teams in the SEC. It was nothing (about) character – our motivation was still there. But it was just a lack of talent.”

Lemonier’s 2010 campaign netted him all-SEC freshman team honors along with the championship ring. He contributed five tackles for a loss and six deflections.

Durability has been a strength; Lemonier appeared in all 39 career games. He struggled with critical offsides penalties and neutral zone infractions during his junior year.

Previous picks by the 49ers in this year’s draft include LSU safety Eric Reid (18th), Florida State defensive end Tank Carradine (40th) and Rice tight end Vance McDonald (55th). San Francisco lost Super Bowl XLVII to the Baltimore Ravens 34-31.

The 88th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft was Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who reportedly received a four-year contract in May 2012 with a signing bonus exceeding half a million dollars.

April 25, 2013

Feeling a draft: Lemonier headlines list of Auburn products dreaming of the pros

AUBURN FOOTBALL

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Three Auburn players were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

Three more, at some point or another, were listed as receiving potential late-round consideration on various NFL Draft projection web sites.

And three others have hired representation to seek free-agent opportunities.

The 2013 NFL Draft is finally here, spread over three days televised by ESPN in primetime beginning Thursday night (round one), resuming Friday night (2-3) and finishing Saturday afternoon (4-7.)

Defensive end Corey Lemonier, the school’s lone underclassman declaring early, is expected to be selected Friday night.

“What he does really well is make plays in pursuit from the back side and get after the quarterback,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said in February, pre-Combine. “He’s instinctive, I think he has upper-body power, and I really like his motor when I study him on tape.”

Lemonier, who is switching position to outside linebacker, recorded just a half-sack in his final eight collegiate games – when Auburn went 2-6.

“Lemonier is a guy that looks great and tests well in the production, and (his) tape isn’t as good,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said in a media teleconference. “I think he won’t get out of the fourth round. I think the teams are looking at him as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He had some production, but I think his best year was a couple years ago, and I think he tailed off as the season went on.”

Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and tailback Onterio McCalebb joined Lemonier at the Combine, and are expected to hear their name called sometime this weekend – though McCalebb may have to await free agency.

“All three love the game of football and they’re very coachable and they have the talent, too,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “I’m really, really looking forward to those guys at the next level and watching them and watching them develop.”

Lutzenkirchen’s recovery from hip surgery is ongoing, while McCalebb created buzz in Indianapolis with a 4.34-second 40-yard-dash.

“Lutzenkirchen’s a good, solid tight end. He has more speed than I think people give him credit for. He’s late draftable,” Mayock said. “And McCalebb is one of the fastest in the draft. He’s small, but he’s explosively quick. He’s going to have to play some special teams, but again, he’s late draftable at the tailback position.”

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The consensus Combine “snub” was Emory Blake, who made the most of a weak passing offense in 2012 with 50 catches. His father, NFL veteran Jeff Blake, threw his passes to him at Auburn’s Pro Day in March.

Blake, linebacker/safety Daren Bates and offensive lineman John Sullen made the all-star game rounds in December.

“The thing about Emory Blake is he’s a football player: he knows how to get open and he’s a great competitor, wants the football, does a lot of the dirty work and … he loves to block,” said Malzahn, Blake’s offensive coordinator from 2009-10. “He’s got an understanding of the game and one of the more mentally tougher receivers I’ve had a chance to coach.”

Cornerback T’Sharvan Bell, wide receivers DeAngelo Benton and Travante Stallworth participated at Pro Day, and hope to negotiate their way into a training camp if undrafted, as expected.

Auburn had just one selection in the 2012 draft: third-round offensive tackle Brandon Mosley, to the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

Live chat at 3 p.m. ET (NFL Draft Day 1!)

AUBURN, Ala. — You know the drill. You’ve got questions, I’ve got … attempts at sarcasm when I don’t know the answers.

March 5, 2013

Father-son connection: Jeff Blake throws to Emory on Pro Day audition Tuesday, insists “he’s a football player – he can make plays”

AUBURN FOOTBALL

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – There’s at least one man who couldn’t care less about what the measurements and stopwatches say about Emory Blake’s football future.

Consider the source: it’s his dad. But not many fathers have spent 14 years throwing to NFL wide receivers.

“He’s a football player,” Jeff Blake said at the conclusion of Tuesday’s Auburn Pro Day. “Most (general managers) are looking for football players. No matter how fast you are, how high you jump, at the end of the day, can you make plays? That’s what good GMs are looking for.”

Emory Blake ranks in Auburn’s top five all-time list for receptions, yards, touchdowns and 100-yard games. He caught passes from seven different quarterbacks from 2009-2012.

But concerns about Blake’s size and speed – mediocre by NFL standards – were enough to deny Blake one of the 333 invites to last week’s Scouting Combine. The 6-foot-1, 189-pounder was unofficially timed at 4.62 seconds in the 40-yard-dash Tuesday, and recorded a 36.5-inch vertical jump.

While some draft experts think he could enjoy a prolonged NFL career with the right squad, Blake’s not a guarantee to be drafted. But he looked smooth catching passes from Dad, with scouts from 23 NFL teams looking on nearby.

“You look at some of the top NFL receivers, they aren’t blazing fast – they’re playmakers,” Jeff Blake said. “I believe Emory is a good football player, he can make plays, and you can put him at a position where he has to catch the ball at the end of the football game to win it, and he’ll catch it.”

Jeff Blake pointed to a couple of successful NFL receivers, Anquan Boldin and Brandon Stokley, who rely more on running crisp routes than winning track meets. As for who Emory reminds him of, Jeff, picking a running comparison, went straight to the top.

“For just running style, he kind of reminds me of the way Jerry Rice runs,” Blake said. “His high knee-lift, very smooth runner, gets separation after the catch. Catches all the balls, and after he catches the ball, has a nose for the end zone.”

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While his former teammates used Auburn wide receivers coach and former Tigers quarterback Dameyune Craig to deliver throws for Tuesday’s Pro Day, Emory selected his famous father to be his personal passer.

“A lot of quarterbacks step in there and try to drill you. He’s not trying to do that,” Emory said. “He’s just trying to make it a catchable ball, and that makes it easier for me as a receiver. I think that gives me a little bit of an advantage.”

There wasn’t a clear-cut moment when father and son decided to rekindle the old days of playing catch on NFL fields … for the biggest job interview of Emory’s life.

“I remember being able to go to practice with my dad, catching balls from all the quarterbacks,” Emory said. “They would try to throw it to me soft, and he’d be like, go ahead, just throw it to him (hard), he’ll catch it. I was about eight years old, catching NFL balls. So it’s just something I’ve always been able to do.”

Jeff Blake threw for 134 touchdowns against 99 interceptions, with 21,711 yards and a career 78.0 passer rating. He played for seven NFL teams in 14 seasons, making 100 career starts, and was named to the 1995 Pro Bowl as part of the Cincinnati Bengals, where he played from 1994-99.

He’s now 42 years old.

“Tell you what, that’s pretty impressive,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “He’s got a great arm. They’ve thrown a lot of passes together over the years, I know that.”

Asked who slung it around better of Tuesday’s two passers, Malzahn chuckled and said, “(Jeff) got Dameyune just a little bit. I’m going to go with him today, but Dameyune’s a great competitor. Couple of great arms out there.”

Emory Blake admitted not getting an invite to the combine gave him a little added motivation.

“Yeah, a little bit. It has to. I felt like I deserved to be there,” Blake said. “But I can only control what I can control. After I didn’t get the invite, all my attention turned to this day. I’ve just been training hard to prove that I can do the athletic stuff, as well as stuff on the field.”

As for Jeff, it was probably the perfect way to go out on a football field for the last time.

“Man, I had fun. I really enjoyed the day,” he said. “I appreciate the opportunity he gave me to come out and just throw one more time. This is probably the last time I have an opportunity to throw like this. The arm will probably go on the shelf after this.”

Pro Day notes: Onterio McCalebb runs fast, Lemonier explains 2012 struggles, ex-NFL QB Jeff Blake slings it around to son Emory

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AUBURN, Ala. – Onterio McCalebb probably could have gotten away with relying on his blazing NFL Scouting Combine time of 4.34 seconds in the 40-yard-dash.

However, perhaps inspired by the brief buzz set off by the unofficial time of 4.21, McCalebb felt compelled to prove to scouts he could do it again at Auburn’s Pro Day on Tuesday at Auburn’s athletic complex.

While the 23 NFL scouts in attendance kept their stopwatches to themselves, Auburn recorded McCalebb with a 4.29 time, as McCalebb continued his strong spring in hopes of earning a late-round selection in next month’s NFL Draft.

The former Tigers tailback, one of 14 Auburn products participating Tuesday (including ten from the 2012 roster), remembered what it was like in Indianapolis to brush with history.

“The guy put the camera in my face, and he said, ‘4.21’. I asked, would that be the record? And he said, yeah,” McCalebb recalled. “I barely could breathe. My mouth was dry and everything.”

Now comes the task of proving to NFL evaluators McCalebb (5-foot-10, 168 pounds) can offer more than just his fleet feet. He’s been working out as a punt returner and kick returner, and was able to bench press a 225-pound bar ten times – fairly impressive considering his lithe frame.

“It is about size, but once I get to the next level, I’ll have time to put weight on,” McCalebb said. “It’s all about the heart. I played in the SEC for four years, I missed two games as a freshman and played every single game after that. That right there can show you I have toughness.”

McCalebb had a vertical jump of 37 inches, just a half-inch off the pace set by former receiver Nate Taylor.

Linebacker/safety Daren Bates was clocked unofficially at 4.53 in the 40-yard-dash, while receiver Emory Blake logged a 4.61. Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, about four to six weeks away from a full recovery from hip surgery, was timed at 4.96 seconds.

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Kickin’ it with Corey: Corey Lemonier, a defensive end in college who is considering switching to outside linebacker if he’s drafted into a 3-4 system, didn’t participate in most measurement drills, after an impressive combine performance. His vertical leap was 34 inches.

Lemonier ranked among the defensive line leaders in bench press, the 40-yard-dash and shuttle drills.

“I was expecting better – he’s a pretty athletic guy, and he has a lot of talent,” fellow Auburn linebacker Jonathan Evans said. “He’s a lot different (than his body was in December). He’s moving a lot better, his hips have gotten a lot better. He’s a good football player.”

Lemonier worked out in linebacker drills next to Evans, stumbling a few times in agility drills but overall was content with his output.

“They saw me doing linebacker drills at the combine,” Lemonier said, “and they were impressed because I’ve never done any linebacker drills or played linebacker in my life.”

Lemonier has been engaging in mixed martial arts lately to help his training. He is expected to go in the second round, and isn’t worried about a lackluster 2012 stretch run hurting his draft stock, saying “every single day” he’s asked about the 3-9 season.

“They ask me basically what happened that year, and I told them coming into the season, we had a dark cloud over our heads with the shooting and players getting arrested,” Lemonier said. “We didn’t have the talent to match up with teams in the SEC. It was nothing (about) character – our motivation was still there. But it was just a lack of talent.”

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Lutz lovin’ it: Lutzenkirchen is still just four months off hip surgery, but he’s pleased with his progress and sounded confident with his draft stock based on his trip to Indianapolis.

“I felt good, I thought I competed well, caught all the balls, did everything I could,” Lutzenkirchen said. “I know I’m never going to be a blazer in the 40, but I think game speed and film speed are a lot different than your 40 speed.”

Roll call: About a dozen current Auburn football players stopped by to watch their elders included quarterbacks Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace, tailback Tre Mason, and defensive linemen Dee Ford, Nosa Eguae and Gabe Wright.

Head coach Gus Malzahn was flanked by assistants Rodney Garner and Melvin Smith.

March 4, 2013

Bates, Blake, Sullen get their turn at Auburn’s Pro Day, joined by Scouting Combine trio

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BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Now the snubs get their shot.

Linebacker Daren Bates, wide receiver Emory Blake and offensive lineman John Sullen combined for 148 career appearances, including 98 starts, in their four-year Auburn careers.

They’ll be in the spotlight one last time on an Auburn field Tuesday morning, in the biggest job interviews of their lives at Auburn’s Pro Day at the athletic complex’s indoor facility.

They’ve each earned some mention on NFL Draft web site projections of having a chance to be selected by a team in late April.

They did not take part in the NFL Network-televised Scouting Combine in late February, when defensive end Corey Lemonier, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and tailback Onterio McCalebb each gave people something to talk about one way or another.

But Bates, Blake and Sullen will regain home-field advantage in attempting to entice NFL scouts. Weigh-ins begin at 10:30 a.m. CT, followed by bench press, vertical test, broad jump, 40-yard-dash, agility and positional drills.

The trio that traveled to Indianapolis last week is also expected to take part in Pro Day. In all, 14 Auburn products (10 who were rostered in 2012) will be in attendance.

Bates led Auburn in tackles his junior and senior seasons at weak-side linebacker, but he’s planning to switch back to his natural position of safety for NFL scouts.

“It’s been hard. It’s like selling – you have to persuade them I’ve done this before,” Bates said Jan. 19 after the Raycom College Football All-Star Classic game in Montgomery. “I’m going to keep on grinding and getting to it.”

Blake finished his career with 128 receptions for 2,022 yards and 16 touchdowns – all marks ranking fifth in school history. His eight 100-yard receiving games are tied for third.

Sullen, an Auburn High School product, was the most experienced member of Auburn’s young offensive line last year. Like Bates and Blake, Sullen was named to preseason all-SEC watch lists, but Auburn scuffled to a 3-9 season.

Now it’s about applying individual skills to succeeding on Sundays.

“It comes with feet, hands, reflexes,” Sullen said Jan. 19, “a whole plethora of things. I feel like I’m a fast learner, and I would help a team in any way they needed me to.”

Lemonier ranked among the defensive line leaders in the 40, jumping drills and bench press in Indianapolis. Lutzenkirchen looks to improve upon clocked runs and measurements from the Scouting Combine, as his recovery from hip surgery continues.

McCalebb officially recorded a 4.34-second 40-yard-dash, though his unofficial time of 4.21 (which would have shattered the Combine record) set off a social media firestorm.

Other 2012 seniors taking part in Pro Day are cornerback T’Sharvan Bell, wide receivers DeAngelo Benton and Travante Stallworth and linebacker Jonathan Evans. Four former Auburn players from previous seasons – kicker Chandler Brooks, offensive lineman A.J. Greene, and receivers Philip Pierre-Louis and Nate Taylor – are also on the entry list.

February 25, 2013

Auburn notes: Lemonier caps fine combine weekend for ex-Tigers; neat start for O’Neal

Corey Lemonier

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Even if the production on the field dropped off, Corey Lemonier’s awe-inducing athleticism and tantalizing talent never went anywhere.

After measuring in at 6 feet, 3 3/4 inches tall and 255 pounds, Lemonier channeled the need for speed from his former teammate Onterio McCalebb. A day after Auburn’s ex-tailback unofficially broke the NFL Scouting Combine 40-yard-dash record, Lemonier turned in a timely 4.6 second run Monday, tied for third-best among defensive ends.

Lemonier also showed some explosion with a 33-inch vertical jump and 119-inch broad jump. On Sunday, Lemonier bench-pressed a 225-pound bar 27 times, tied for seventh at the position to prove his muscle.

In a couple of tweets, Lemonier sent upon his departure: “I had a great time here in Indianapolis. What a great experience” and “War eagle!! Thank you auburn for three great years!!”

Lemonier only had a half sack in the final eight games of his junior season, yet opted to enter the NFL Draft anyway as an underclassman. Draft experts have projected him anywhere from late in the first round to the third round.

Lemonier told reporters in Indianapolis he is looking to play elsewhere in some team’s front seven.

“I think I will be a 3-4 outside linebacker,” said Lemonier, according to Scout.com. “That’s a new position for me. I am raw, but I think that’s good because I will have no bad habits … you have to be able to play in space at linebacker, especially trying to chase down all those quarterbacks.”

McCalebb and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen concluded their interview sessions and workouts earlier in the weekend. They are scheduled to participate in Auburn’s Pro Day on March 5, joined by wide receiver Emory Blake and offensive lineman John Sullen.

The NFL Draft is April 25-27 in New York City.

Michael O'Neal

O’Neal rock-solid

Michael O’Neal hadn’t yet seen tape of himself a day after his second start in an Auburn uniform, though he enjoyed one piece of AuburnTigers.com’s social media savvy.

“I haven’t lately, but I watched the (video) recap on the website,” said O’Neal, referring to a pre-packaged video by the university. “That was pretty neat.”

O’Neal’s been pretty neat himself. The Pacelli and Chattahoochee Valley CC product has won each of his first two starts with the Tigers – no other Auburn starter has factored into a decision – while logging a 1.54 ERA and walking one batter against eight strikeouts.

He’s not a power pitcher, but O’Neal knows his strengths, and he’s playing to them. O’Neal has found the strike zone or coaxed a swing on 67 percent of his deliveries.

“Just throwing strikes, getting guys down early in counts, and throwing deep in the game for our bullpen,” O’Neal said. “It feels good to know you fill the zone and let our defense work. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

O’Neal feels he’s got room for improvement with his offspeed pitches, though head coach John Pawlowski likes what he’s seen in each of O’Neal’s outings, each lasting into the sixth inning.

“That’s what we’re hoping,” Pawlowski said. “When he can run that ball down there in the bottom half of the zone with the sinker, he throws three pitches for strikes. He’s got a little deception going on, and a second quality start for him, he’s done a great job for us.”

Another of O’Neal’s stated goals is keeping things simple for his bullpen, but the relievers have carried more than their fair share of the load early in this young season. The new-look Auburn bullpen has an 0.95 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings of work.

“It’s fun to watch, isn’t it?” O’Neal said. “They’re throwing 89-92, blowing it by the hitters, throwing sick curveballs. They’re going to strike out a lot of guys.”

Auburn (6-1) returns to action Tuesday against Kennesaw State (4-3), with first pitch set for 4 p.m. ET at Plainsman Park.

February 24, 2013

Not a record-setter, but McCalebb creates a stir with blazing-fast 40-yard-dash

3Auburn5AUBURN, Ala. — The legend of Bo Jackson – well, one of many – is he went from Point A to Point B, a 40-yard dead sprint, in 4.12 seconds.

That was based on handheld stopwatches, the tool of choice in the mid-1980s. In 1999, the NFL Scouting Combine began using electronic timing, which certified the pure speed of young runners.

For about a half hour, the world of Twitter (yes, the world) was abuzz with another former Auburn tailback. Onterio McCalebb first ran an unofficial 4.27 40, then followed it up with an unbelievable 4.21-second run, which would have eclipsed Chris Johnson’s record in the electronic timing era (4.24, in 2008) by three one-hundredths of a second.

However, the official results showed McCalebb was fast – just not freaky fast. McCalebb’s 4.34 time was tied for second among all Combine trackers, behind Texas wideout Marquise Goodwin and equaled by West Virginia athlete Tavon Austin.

Impressive, considering McCalebb was sidelined at last month’s Senior Bowl with a hamstring injury.

Before the official results were posted to NFL.com/combine, McCalebb was the No. 8 trending topic worldwide on Twitter. Johnson himself posted to his 816,000 followers, after he learned his record was safe:

Draft analysts from NFL Network and ESPN believe McCalebb could figure in as a late-round draft pick, particularly if he proved his quickness.

NFL Network has the video of McCalebb’s two runs here.

Onterio Mccalebb