AUBURN — There aren’t new names at linebacker for the Tigers, but there are new roles.
The learning curve is still a concern as Cassanova McKinzy takes over as Auburn’s new middle linebacker.
The Birmingham native spent last season on the weak side and was the team’s leading tackler (75).
He moves inside but will need to do a lot in fall camp for defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson to be totally comfortable with his new Mike linebacker.
“When I first got here, I thought he was a Mike linebacker but he wouldn’t talk,” Johnson said. “He didn’t communicate well at the line of scrimmage and things of that nature.”
That was the same issue that hampered McKinzy as a true freshman when he played in the middle for a few games in 2012.
After serving as the backup in the middle last season, Kris Frost moves outside as the starting weak side linebacker.
Frost was one of Auburn’s most productive defenders last season and his numbers should only go up as he takes over a starting job.
Middle Linebacker — Cassanova McKinzy (6-foot-3, 249 pounds, junior), Kenny Flowers (6-foot-1, 230 pounds, junior)
Weak Side Linebacker — Kris Frost (6-foot-2, 234 pounds, junior), Cameron Toney (6-foot-1, 243 pounds, redshirt-freshman)
McKinzy played an inordinately high percentage of the defensive snaps last season, helping fuel his production.
He missed a lot of spring practice with a tailbone injury and didn’t play a lot on A-Day, but his hit on Peyton Barber caused a fumble and ability has never been the issue with McKinzy.
Learning the communication aspect of the position is a challenge and that’s where the junior still has to develop before the season starts.
Frost came in as one of the top linebacker recruits and he’ll finally get a chance to showcase all his talents this fall.
After backing up Jake Holland much of the last two seasons, Frost, who had 59 tackles, with six for loss and two forced fumbles last season, should start.
Kenny Flowers had a disappointing season for a JUCO transfer, with just four tackles. He moved to the middle from the weak side and showed a different level of play on A-Day, which earned him Defensive MVP honors.
Cameron Toney was the only defensive player to redshirt last season and that wasn’t easy on the Huntsville native. He was productive on A-Day and will get a good share of reps in the fall.
Khari Harding (6-foot, 224 pounds, sophomore) moved from safety to middle linebacker and did well in spring practice.
Anthony Swain (6-foot-2, 249 pounds, junior) was held out of spring practice for undisclosed reasons and then reinstated in June.
JaViere Mitchell (6-foot-2, 203 pounds, sophomore) missed spring practice with a foot injury. He contributed mostly on special teams last season but a healthy fall camp could lead to an increase in his reps as well.
Tre’ Williams (6-foot-2, 217 pounds) is one of the centerpieces of Auburn’s 2014 recruiting class and is expected to contribute immediately.
Deshaun Davis (6-foot, 225 pounds) was one of the earlier commitments to Auburn’s 2014 class and is coming off an ACL tear that cost him his senior season.
“I’m so comfortable that I can play Mike and Will. I’m really comfortable now with everything and being adjusted to playing college football and playing at the level of the SEC. Knowing the plays. Being comfortable enough to actually teach guys like Khari and be able to coach them up and help coach and make sure guys know where they’re at as well as me knowing where I’m at.”
— Kris Frost