News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Senior Bowl South running back Kenny Irons of Auburn right, pulls away from the tackle attempt by his brother, David, during practice Wednesday in Mobile.
AP photo by G.M. Andrews
Senior Bowl South running back Kenny Irons of Auburn right, pulls away from the tackle attempt by his brother, David, during practice Wednesday in Mobile.

Irons eager to prove his worth
to scouts

Size, durability issues
shadow back's future

By Bradley Handwerger ∑ 340-2462

MOBILE — For two years, Auburn's Kenny Irons has pulled pranks and told jokes to whomever will listen.

The Tigers' running back could get away with it, too. His performance on the field in games made sure it.

But this week in Mobile for Saturday's Senior Bowl, Irons has remained far from that jokester.

"He's been pretty quiet," San Francisco 49ers and South team running backs coach Bishop Harris said. "He understands. He follows my lead."

With dollar signs no doubt swimming in his head, it's pretty easy to understand why Irons has suddenly turned serious.

His performance during practice this week could make — or lose — him a ton of money.

"Like (Auburn) Coach (Eddie) Gran said, there's a time and place for everything," Irons said. "This is not the time or place for it. "When I'm home with my brother or with my teammates from Auburn, then yeah, I'll go and joke around. But here, it's business."

Irons could have a lot to prove. After he rushed for 1,293 yards and 13 touchdowns his junior season, some draft experts pegged him as a possible first-round draft pick heading into 2006.

However, injuries to his ankles and a case of turf toe slowed him down, and it showed in his stat line. He missed three games as coaches sat him out to give him rest and carried the ball 58 fewer times than in 2005.

He finished this season with 893 yards and only four scores.

"There's a little bit to prove," Irons said. "I've got a little chip on my shoulder to come out here and run plays hard. Everybody is thinking, oh, turf toe or ankle injury. Some people don't think it's healed all the way.

"But hey, I'm still Kenny. I'm going to run the ball just like I did my junior year. I'm healed all the way."

Nevertheless, Irons' senior season is the one that stands out the most.

Whether it's correct or not, Irons has gained a reputation as injury-prone. He is going to have to prove that 2006 was an anomaly.

"People thought Cadillac (Carnell Williams) was too small a couple of years ago, but he was 216 pounds when he weighed in at the Senior Bowl," NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock said. "We're talking about a 195-pound tailback with a history of durability issues."

At Monday's weigh in, Irons came in at a 5-foot-10 and 188 pounds. He entered the season at 203 pounds.

And despite the injuries, he still recorded three 100-yard games, including 106 at Ole Miss in Auburn's 23-17 win when the Tigers needed every one of his yards.

"What I think he has is real good feet, and I think he's a tough kid," said Mayock, who expects Irons to go anywhere between the middle of the second round and the third round.

"But just because you're a tough kid doesn't mean you're not going to get beat up if you're 195 pounds. That's what he's fighting against."

Irons said he realizes he's fighting an uphill battle in that regard and has work to do. "Just my weight and get my upper body bulked up a bit," he said. "And pass block. I think I need to work on my pass block."

Senior Bowl: North vs. South

When: Saturday, 3 p.m.

Where: Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile.

Line: No line.

TV: The NFL Network will broadcast the game.

Players to watch: For the South, quarterback Chris Leak (Florida), running back Kenny Irons (Auburn) and linebackers Juwan Simpson (Alabama) and Patrick Willis (Ole Miss). Leak is coming off an impressive performance in the national championship game and has had a good week of practice. Ironsí week went well, and heís as healthy as he has been since this past summer. Simpson and Willis both are two of the SECís more active defensive players.

For the North, quarterback Troy Smith (Ohio State), linebacker Paul Posluszny (Penn State) and defensive lineman Amobi Okoye (Louisville). This is Smithís first game since the national championship game debacle against Florida. Heíll need a good game for his NFL stock to creep back up. Posluszny is fast and good and he has a lot of potential. Okoye is the youngest player in the game at 19. Heís from Huntsville and has impressed everyone this week.

Weather: Rainy all day with a high of 62 expected.

Last meeting: North 31-14, Jan. 28, 2006.

- Bradley Handwerger, Daily Sports Writer

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