AUBURN – LaDarius Owens avoided fried food for three months. There were no shortcuts, no cheating. He overhauled his diet, cutting out carbs unless it was before a workout, being proactive with his future.
Such concessions can wear on any man, let alone an SEC defensive lineman. Owens shed 15 pounds on his diet, without kicking and screaming.
“It just came off real easy,” Owens said. “Once I felt how fast and how quick I was getting, it became addictive.”
Owens chose to eat grilled instead of fried after trying to predict where he’d play in Auburn’s new defense. He couldn’t.
Owens said he didn’t know whether he’d stay at defensive end, or get the chance to return to linebacker – where the junior wanted to play the past two years.
His diet, combined with intense sessions beside strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell, got him within range to play linebacker. Now at 243 pounds, Owens said he’s ready.
“I didn’t really know where they’d put me, so I thought it would be easier to gain weight than lose,” Owens said. “So I dropped just 15 pounds, and with the weight program with Coach Russell, it was easy to do that. Once I got down I liked how I felt.”
Once new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson arrived – bringing his 4-2-5 defense with him – it didn’t take Owens long to get a visit. Quickly, Owens asked to be moved to linebacker, and the coach obliged.
Owens knew there was less standing between him and the field at linebacker than there was at defensive end. Johnson knew, too.
“We just wanted to give him a shot, see if he can do it,” Johnson said. “He looks comfortable there. I don’t know how many plays he’ll make once we go live, but he’s picking up coverage and drops, things a defensive lineman wouldn’t normally have done. We’ll let him fight for the two-deep.”
The return to linebacker – Owens was the No. 8 outside linebacker in the 2009 signing class, according to Rivals – has been more of a mental than physical transition.
Owens figures to be a good fit in Johnson’s system, a gap-fitting linebacker that can shed run blockers and plug running lanes. He’ll have to do foreign jobs, too, like cover receivers and start plays in a two-point stance.
Owens believes the positives far outnumber any challenges.
“Just like Saturday, when we had our first scrimmage we did inside drill – my first time doing it from linebacker since my redshirt freshman year,” Owens said. “We did inside, and it was real comfortable for me to come downhill and get my hands on linemen.
“I tell the guys all the time, it’s fun now. I get a head start at them. Usually, when I’m down at the trenches, it’s just like, bam, right there. But now I’ve got a head start at them so now I think I’ve got the advantage.”
Auburn opened spring practices rotating Jake Holland, Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost at starting linebacker. Owens is far from conceding defeat.
At its core, Owens’ decision – the diet, the position change, all of it – was designed to get on the field. Once he adjusts, Owens expects to be part of the playing rotation this fall.
“I didn't move to linebacker to watch or to just add depth,” Owens said. “I want to compete, and that’s why I put in so much time off the field to study and watch film. Right now, my biggest thing is learning the coverages. Basically getting comfortable with it to where I don’t have to think, I’m just out there knowing where to go and remembering to make calls to help the other guys go like the secondary and the D-line.
“So my goal really is just to get better, and get more comfortable at the position so I have something to build on in the summer, and then compete in the fall for a starting job for the first game.”