Leading up to Wednesday’s start of Gus Malzahn’s first spring practice as Auburn’s head coach, we will preview each position. In this installment, we look at the linebackers.
Kris Frost will get his chance to show he's ready to play
Auburn will go into spring practice with five scholarship linebackers. That’s not the optimum number for first-year defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Ellis Johnson, but it’s an acceptable number. In Johnson’s 4-2-5 defense, only two linebackers are on the field in most situations.
Daren Bates, last season’s leading tackler, is gone. So is Jonathan Evans, who started on the strong side when Auburn wasn’t in nickel defense.
Only senior Jake Holland, with 18 career starts, has significant starting experience. Unless one of them is moved, he’ll compete in the spring with sophomore Cassanova McKinzy, who started two games last season.
At the other linebacker, sophomore Kris Frost might be the most intriguing story among the linebackers. Much was expected of him as a redshirt freshman last season, but by his own admission, he had difficulty mastering former coordinator Brian VanGorder’s defense. He’ll compete with junior Justin Garrett, who has one career start, and redshirt freshman JaViere Mitchell.
A CLOSER LOOK
* Holland was Auburn’s fourth leading tackler last season with 73. He had three tackles for losses, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble. His knowledge and savvy will make him difficult to unseat.
* McKinzy started two games last season and made 19 tackles in those two starts. But, according to VanGorder, he struggled to execute the defense, particularly against the pass. By the end of the season, he wasn’t playing frequently. He finished with 23 tackles and a fumble recovery. He’ll have his chance in the spring to show he’s ready for prime time.
* Garrett in similar in size to Bates. He was in on 12 tackles last season and forced a fumble.
* Frost was credited with five tackles last season.
* Anthony Swain moved from safety to linebacker before last season and is now back at safety. He’ll probably get a look at the Star position that replaces what would be the strongside linebacker in a 4-3 defense.
* Mitchell worked as a linebacker on the scout team last season.
”You don’t need but about eight linebackers. If we are in this system, you won’t see 3-5-4-5 linebackers signed every year. There is nowhere for them to play. You are going to see big, strong, physical safeties. You are going to see some linebackers signed that could end up being defensive ends. That’s just the nature of the scheme we play.” – DC Ellis Johnson
Up next: The cornerbacks