Fairley named Lombardi finalist

Fairley Monster named a Lombardi Finalist....like there was any doubt!

Junior defensive tackle Nick Fairley was named one of four finalists for the Lombardi Trophy by the Rotary Club of Houston on Wednesday.

The Lombardi is presented annually to the nation’s top lineman.

Current Auburn defensive line coach Tracy Rocker is the only Tiger to win the Lombardi — which started in 1970 — when he received it in 1988.

The 6-foot-5, 298-pound Fairley leads the SEC and is tied for fifth in the NCAA with 18.0 tackles for loss, and is second in the SEC with 7.5 sacks this season.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik said the lineman was deserving of the honor.

“But it’s like I told him tonight, ‘That’s not good enough,’” Chizik said. “He’s got to go out there and play better in this game than he has in all the others. But he’s definitely a guy that deserves it.”

Fairley, from Mobile, was also announced one of 16 semifinalists for the Bednarik Award — given to the nation’s best defensive players — earlier this week.

Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said Fairley has even made the Tigers’ offensive linemen going up against him every day.

He likened the effect to the one Terrell Suggs had on tackle Levi Jones when Grimes was at Arizona State.

Both Suggs and Jones were first-round picks.

“Both of those guys got better because they had to go against each other,” Grimes said. “I think there’s certainly been some of that with our group having to go against a guy like Nick.”

Iowa senior defensive end Adrian Clayborn, TCU senior center Jake Kirkpatrick and Clemson junior defensive end Da’Quan Bowers — who had 3.5 TFL and a sack against Auburn earlier this year — are the other three finalists for the Lombardi.

Bell, Bates back?
Chizik said he feels “good about the possibility” of linebacker Daren Bates playing this week.

The sophomore sat out the past two games with a shoulder injury, and fellow sophomore backer Jonathan Evans said Tuesday that Bates was practicing at full speed this week.

Chizik put sophomore cornerback T’Sharvan Bell (hamstring) and sophomore tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen (unspecified) “kind of in the same boat” as Bates.

Cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley had a bit of a sunnier outlook on Bell’s status, saying he “absolutely” expects Bell to play against Georgia on Saturday.

And Lolley said the team will need him, especially going up against Bulldogs star wideout A.J. Green.

“I’ve said all year, this guy is different,” Lolley said. “He’s the best we’ve played against. No bones about it. Not only is he big, tall and can run. He just does everything very well. Really good football player.”

Houston, we have a problem
Grimes sees a headache coming this weekend, in the form of a white No. 42 jersey.

Not only is the Bulldogs’ Justin Houston tops in the SEC with 9.0 sacks, but he also gets them from about every position on the field.

So Grimes’ linemen will have to keep an eye on the 6-foot-3, 258-pound Houston from his outside linebacker spot. Or at rush end. Or wherever else Georgia thinks to line him up.

“Whether you address it through your base system, or whether you do something to account for that, that’s a decision everybody’s got to make every week,” Grimes said. “But you’re certainly aware of a guy that.

“They play him in a lot of different spots and put him in position I’m sure where they feel like they can take the best advantage of matchups that week.”

We are family
Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said there’s a reason Auburn’s players have been able to put all the distractions afforded by the many mutations of the Cam Newton story out of their mind over the past week.

And it comes down to “family.”

“You don’t love family in slices. You take family just like they are — good, bad and ugly,” Taylor said. “That’s what family is about. What we all go through together makes us family. That’s pretty special.”

dmorrison@oanow.com | 737-2568

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