December 26, 2013

Speedy ascent

AUBURN | Dee Ford arrived at Auburn in 2009 as an underweight, underskilled player in dire need of refinement.

He needed three years of work before emerging as a top-tier pass rusher. Adding weight was a critical part of the process, sure, but the real reason for Ford's jump in productivity surrounded nuances of the game. Footwork. Hand placement. Understanding how to mitigate blockers in real-world situations.

And that's what amazes Ford.

He looks at freshman Carl Lawson, who just finished his first varsity season, and marvels at how quickly his protégé became such an important part of the enterprise.

"He's 10 times, maybe 100 times, better than I was as a freshman," Ford said. "He's a freak of nature, man. He has a lot of growing to do -- and that's the scary part. He's as (big) as any other starter in the SEC right now. He's a bright future."

Lawson was the most highly ranked player ever to sign with the Tigers when he inked scholarship papers in February. classified the 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive end as the nation's No. 4 overall prospect and the nation's best player at his position.

That's high praise.

Still, thriving at such a physically demanding position generally is reserved for veterans like Ford. It takes hundreds of workouts and more trial and error than the Wright Brothers to take flight against the best offensive linemen in college football.

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