(Photo courtesy of AP Images)
MOBILE, Ala. – It might be a bit strong to say that a big, mauling guard who played his college football in the SEC stole the show during Senior Bowl week though it wouldn’t have surprised many observers if one did.
Of course, if an interior lineman from the nation’s most talent-rich conference did make a huge impression, most would have guessed that Alabama’s Chance Warmack was the guy.
Warmack is being touted as the top guard prospect in this year’s NFL draft but he’s not the only one drawing plenty of attention from scouts. Kentucky guard Larry Warford arrived with plenty to prove and emerged from the week as one of the most highly regarded interior linemen in the draft.
Considering the short turnaround time to learn the NFL system being taught, Warford was pleased with how his week went.
“You get a lot thrown at you and install a new offense in a day,” Warford said. “But you really have to be in your playbook at night. Overall, I feel like I performed pretty well given the time constraints we had.”
The humble Warford actually fared better than he’d be willing to admit. Among many of the scouts in attendance, he was one of the three or four best players on the field regardless of position throughout the week.
Matched up with monster defensive tackles such as Georgia’s John Jenkins during practice and quick, talented tackles such as Purdue’s Kawann Short in the game itself, Warford more than held his own.
“Many have already conceded the top guard spot to Alabama’s Chance Warmack,” Russ Lande, National Football Post and former Rams scout, said. “But Warford did everything he could this week to close the gap and get into the discussion.”
While players like Warmack draw plenty of attention because of playing on a title-contending team, Warford spent his college career on the one school in the SEC that is unequivocally considered a “basketball school.”
In Warford’s final season in Lexington, the Wildcats sunk to a 2-10 finish. That lack of success was extremely trying for Warford, who as a senior leader of the team did all he could to try to keep his team motivated.
“You have to rally around your guys and go back to work,” Warford said. “It really shows your true character when you are at your lowest point, how do you respond? I believe my team did that. They went out and practiced and never complained. We wanted to win more and that drove our practices.”
Warford, of course, had the additional motivation of working to prove he’s ready for the next level. In his four year career, he played in all 47 games with a streak of 37 consecutive starts after he earned the right guard job as a sophomore.
Even while playing for a struggling team, Warford managed to stand out against some of the nation’s top opponents. In 2012 alone, he regularly squared off against top defensive tackles such as Jenkins, Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson and Florida’s Shariff Floyd.
Warford believes that type of competition has helped his game grow tremendously and prepared him for the next level.
“It means everything,” Warford said. “You are basically playing in a mini-NFL. All these guys are probably guys you will see in the league at some point or at least pretty close to the talent level that you see in the league. It gives you confidence that you are ready for anything being competitive in the SEC.”
At a shade under 6’3, Warford is a bit squatter than many guards but he certainly has the bulk to compete against NFL defensive tackles. At his biggest, he weighed in around 350 pounds but before arriving in Mobile was coming in closer to 330.
Warford believes that is his ideal weight to maintain his strength at the point of attack but the mobility to get out and pull.
“I didn’t want to lose too much weight because I didn’t know how my body would take it,” Warford said. “I didn’t know how it would affect my play. Once I figured out how to eat and what to eat in conjunction with a good workout, how much strength that’s actually given me, I can gain a lot of strength while losing weight.”
Warford is generally considered a mauler in the run game but a bit less effective in pass protection. He spent his entire collegiate career at right guard, a position known as a haven for run blockers, but says he’s worked hard to be as balanced as possible.
“I try to be really good in everything,” Warford said. “I don’t want to be known for just one thing. I’m trying to be a complete lineman. But if that (run blocking) is my best suit, I guess I’ll just have to enjoy it.”
Even just in one week with an NFL coaching staff, Warford said he gained a lot of knowledge and perspective that helped him ease some concerns about his pass protection ability.
After the South team’s first practice last Monday, Warford retired to a film room with Lions’ offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn. By his own admission, Warford had struggled pass blocking and couldn’t quite pinpoint why.
Washburn showed him a hitch in his fundamentals in which Warford was taking a big kick step on his outside foot but not moving his inside foot at all, thus restricting his movement entirely.
It was a quick fix that Warford immediately put to use.
“That was one of the bigger things that’s helped, in one on ones especially,” Warford said. “I took that advice and came out and did extremely well. So that was just one example of that.”
There’s no telling where Warford will land in this April’s draft. For their part, the Rams could be in the market for a guard but they have high hopes for
Warford’s week in Mobile certainly turned some heads to go with his already impressive resume, though, and he figures to land somewhere early in the second round or even sneak his way into the first.
Wherever he lands, Warford is going to love what he does.
“It’s a tough job to enjoy,” Warford said. “You have to be a special person to play offensive line. That’s what I love about it. We are all the same guy, all team guys but it takes a special person to love this.”