Auburn's Dee Ford out for Season Opener, Allows Freshmen Studs a Chance to Shine

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2013

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 10:  Defensive end Dee Ford #95 of the Auburn Tigers reacts on the bench during their game against the Georgia Bulldogs on November 10, 2012 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. Georgia defeated Auburn 38-0 and clinched the SEC East division.  (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
Michael Chang/Getty Images

Auburn defensive end Dee Ford, the team's sack leader in 2012, injured his knee in an Aug. 10 scrimmage and has been ruled out for the season opener against Washington State—if not longer.

According to Brandon Marcello of

[Ford] has not practiced in more than a week with an injury to one of the ligaments in his left knee, but surgery is not required.

When asked Monday if Ford would miss the season opener against Washington State on Aug. 31, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said "no question." Ford is expected to be out an "extended" period of time.

Ford's injury comes on the heels of safety Demetruce McNeal's dismissal from the team. Another one of the top returning players (from an already disappointing unit), McNeal was supposed to be a leader in the Tigers secondary. But Gus Malzahn dismissed him for second-degree marijuana charges, leaving the Auburn defense thinner on veterans than it would like to be.

That's the bad news. The good news, at least with Ford's injury, is that some of AU's blue-chip freshmen will get a chance to play immediately.

Even if veterans start ahead of them, first-year ends Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel will now become featured players in Auburn's early games—even more so than they were intended to be. Both have impressed in practice and will now get a chance to sharpen their swords for real.

Lawson and Daniel both earned 5-star grades from 247Sports, each ranking among the top 30 prospects in America. No program brought in two more highly touted bookends; few are counting on the youngsters to produce so promptly.

Depending on just how long Ford must sit out (and assuming it doesn't nag him all year), his injury might actually be a blessing in disguise. The Tigers' first two games are against Washington State and Arkansas State, two teams they ought to beat regardless of defensive health.

If Ford's absence puts them at risk of losing, they have much bigger issues than his knee.

But now, should Ford be healthy in time for SEC play (which starts Sept. 14), his freshmen backups will be further along than intended. They will have overcome the jitters of Jordan-Hare Stadium and will have played in front of a live crowd. The trio, as a whole, might actually be better against Mississippi State if Ford sits out until then.

Ohio State had a similar duo of blue-chip freshmen ends last season, highly touted Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. They saw the field sparingly, but enough, and are now both expected to be All-Big Ten performers as true sophomores.

If Lawson and Daniel both see more than sparing reps, just imagine where they can be next year.

Just imagine where they can be by the Iron Bowl.