AUBURN – LaDarius Owens smiled sheepishly at the question. How long, he was asked, had he wanted to switch to linebacker from defensive end?
LaDarius Owens says he's had to work hard to catch up with other linebackers.
“Honestly, probably about two years,” Owens said.
It was two years ago that Owens moved to defensive end after spring practice in what would be his redshirt freshman year.
Owens, who played at Jess Lanier High School in Bessemer, was one of the state’s top prospects in the 2011 recruiting cycle. Though he mostly rushed off the edge in high school, he signed as a linebacker and stayed there through the end of his first spring practice, when he moved to defensive end. He spent the past two seasons backing up Corey Lemonier, Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae.
When Gene Chizik and his staff were swept away in the wake of last season’s 3-9 record, Owens sensed an opportunity. When Ellis Johnson was named defensive coordinator, Owens let it be known he would like to get another shot at linebacker. He went to work losing weight, dropping 15 pounds down to 243, and got faster and quicker.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Owens said. “Being an end helps me deal with linemen. Last Saturday when we had inside drill, my first time doing it as a linebacker since my freshman year, it was really 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.”
Being faster and quicker has been helpful, but playing middle linebacker and all that goes with it takes more. Owens has been busy trying to catch up.
“Jake and Chris and all those guys have played linebacker,” Owens said. “They are used to the verbiage, used to the coverages. I had to get in the playbook, watch film, meet extra with coaches to get caught up with the game. Now I feel like I’m at a good point from so much studying. Today it felt like it slowed down for me a whole lot.”
The time is coming, Owens says, for the competition to get serious. And he says he’ll be ready.
“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. … 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 to compete in the fall for a starting job for the first game.”