Auburn’s Cassanova McKinzy (8) returns at weakside linebacker after starting all 14 games last season. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
Auburn lost a starter at linebacker, but that doesn’t mean the Tigers are sunk as they head into the 2014 football season.
There is a backup who played a good bit last year. In addition, the other linebacker is set with one player who started every game last year.
With that in mind, we take a look at how Auburn stacks up at the two linebacker spots.
Ready for spring:
Cassanova McKinzy, rising junior; Kris Frost, junior; Anthony Swain, junior; JaViere Mitchell, sophomore; Justin Garrett, junior; Kenny Flowers, junior; Cameron Toney, redshirt freshman.
Coming in the fall:
Deshaun Davis, incoming freshman; Tre Williams, incoming freshman.
One-half of Auburn’s two-linebacker scheme is set.
After starting all 14 contests in the Tigers’ run to the BCS Championship Game at weakside linebacker, McKinzy will return to that role this fall.
Middle linebacker isn’t quite as settled, but after splitting time with Holland last year, Frost will open spring practice at the top of the depth chart.
Swain, a rising junior, served as McKinzy’s backup last season. While he’ll be hard-pressed to move past McKinzy into the starting lineup, Swain should continue to provide quality reps when he’s on the field.
The rest of the unit is unproven.
Mitchell, a third-year sophomore, has produced when given the opportunity. Obvious as it may sound, the key for him will be staying away from the injury bug, which he’s had a problem avoiding since joining the team in 2012.
Garrett can relate. He was a breakout performer last spring, being named the MVP of the A-Day game. That came when he was still at the Star position, though, a cross between linebacker and safety. Once the fall arrived, he was beset by nagging foot injuries. While he was sidelined, Robenson Therezie swooped in, took the starting job at Star and didn’t relinquish it for the remainder of the year.
With Therezie entrenched at the spot, Garrett was moved to linebacker. With the foot injuries still an issue, he was a non-factor, tallying just four tackles in two games before sitting out the rest of the season. His talent is undeniable, though. If he can stay healthy, don’t be surprised if the junior makes defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson think long and hard about penciling his name in the starting lineup.
After spending last season on special teams, Flowers will look to make a name for himself starting with spring practice. The same goes for Toney, who redshirted in 2013.
And don’t forget about the two incoming freshmen. Both Williams and Davis are tackling machines.
Williams has excellent size for a linebacker and will make a push for playing time immediately. The only question about Davis will be how quickly he’s able to get reacclimated to playing full speed. He didn’t play a down last fall, forced into a spectator role after tearing his ACL prior to the season.
Given how crowded the depth chart will be, Davis could be ticketed for a redshirt in the coming season, returning to full strength and a chance to showcase himself in the spring of 2015.