AUBURN | Dee Ford arrived five years ago as a runt with ton of heart.
Now he's the Tigers' most valuable defender.
The senior from rural St. Clair County, located 35 northeast of downtown Birmingham, has added two inches and 50 pounds to his body since his early days as a special-teams marauder. His speed off the edge gives Auburn a frequent advantage while his size allows him to bring some emphasis to run support.
"He's been extremely important and … if you go back to when we missed him earlier in the season, especially against a team like Washington State who was throwing it so frequently, it was a big handicap," defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. "It's been obvious what he's meant to us in some big ball games like Georgia and also Texas A&M -- the plays he's made at crucial teams."
Two will be remembered above the others.
Ford knocked Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi backward and sacked quarterback Johnny Manziel to consummate the Tigers' win in College Station. He also ended Georgia's final threat with a crushing body blow to quarterback Aaron Murray as he was releasing his final pass.
The ball landed without a receiver nearby.
Murray landed on his back, left to look at the stars as Auburn celebrated one of the most intriguing wins in Jordan-Hare Stadium history.
"It's been a fun season for me, but I'm always trying to find ways to get better here and there," Ford said after the Georgia game. "I still have a ways to go. I still feel myself getting better. If I'm not a better player against Alabama … I'll be disappointed in myself. I don't like being disappointed in myself. I can't live with that."
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Johnson has been very complimentary of Ford this season, but he insists that Auburn's other defensive linemen have made substantial progress as well. "Rodney (Garner) has done a heck of a job with them," he said. "We've got some other guys that are getting pretty good pressure and (have) improved in that area -- and Dee certainly helps ... because they've always got to be aware of him."
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