Tigers, LB Corps Wrap Up Preparations

News, notes and quotes are featured on the Auburn football Tigers as they prepare for Saturday night's opener.

Auburn, Ala.--While there is no doubt that Jake Holland will be Auburn's main man at middle linebacker when the Tigers open the season on Saturday night vs. Clemson, the question of who is backing him up has been unsettled.

However, now that the Tigers have wrapped up their on-the-field preparations, former walk-on Ashton Richardson has emerged as Holland's top backup.

The linebackers and the rest of the Tigers worked out on campus Thursday evening in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets fine-tuning the game plan for Saturday's season opener vs. Clemson.

The Tigers, who used their indoor facility on Thursday, will do a walk-through on Friday afternoon before boarding buses for the short trip to Atlanta where they will play Clemson at 6 p.m. CDT at the Georgia Dome.

Holland noted he is ready to get the season started after a month's worth of practices. "I am excited to hit somebody else," the junior said. "I am excited to play somebody else. It is finally the season and I really excited to see what this team has to offer with the new systems and the new staff."

Chris Landrum, who was in the competition to be the No. 2 middle linebacker, struggled at the position and was moved to running back, a more familiar and comfortable spot.

One of Auburn's prized 2012 recruits, Cassanova McKinzy, is working at the middle linebacker spot. Thigpen said the freshman is making progress, but early in the season McKinzy probably won't see a lot of game action while he learns to play the position.

Ashton Richardson

The Tigers will go into the Clemson game with former walk-on Richardson holding down the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Holland. Position coach Tommy Thigpen notes that Richardson got the spot on the depth chart the old-fashioned way--he earned it.

"I am pleased with him," Thigpen said. "He works extremely hard. You will see him in the mornings and then you will go into your meeting room to clean up and he will be in there watching tape by himself.

"I was in there late one night working myself and someone knocked on the door and it was him," Thigpen said with a smile. "He is just that kind of kid."

Richardson, who is the son of a former LSU All-American football player Al Richardson, walked on at Auburn in 2009. Last year he was awarded a scholarship by Gene Chizik, but his playing time was severely limited by an injury. This year he has been healthy enough to show he is ready to contribute.

"The kid takes a lot of pride," Thigpen said. "He is pushing for a lot of playing time. He is doing a tremendous job. He missed a couple of days of practice due to some headaches and that kind of deal, but he has been fine ever since he got back."

McKinzy, who is the biggest linebacker on the roster at 6-3, 243 pounds, is a player the Tigers are trying to get ready to contribute this season and he has been working on his own to reach that goal.

Cassanova McKinzy is shown at an August practice.

"He is a long way as far as learning the game, but when he knows what to do one day he will be a guy we all will talk about," Thigpen predicts. "I just love the way he practices. I just love the way he approaches the game. He is not ashamed to know he doesn't know it. He asks questions every day and gets better every day.

"One thing about it, if he does make a mistake it is at 125 miles per hour," Thigpen said.

The Tigers have just one other true freshman linebacker. Javiie Mitchell, who has missed practice time with injuries, has been working at the weakside spot on the scout team.

A player likely to redshirt as he learns how to play the position after lining up with his hand on the ground in high school, Mitchell has good speed and goes full speed, which makes him a promising player, Thigpen noted. "The kid has a positive attitude," Thigpen said.

Thigpen is counting on Holland to direct the defense from his middle linebacker spot. The junior is eager to please his coach.

Holland also noted that he believes the Tigers will be excited Saturday night at the Georgia Dome for multiple reasons, including the opportunity to face the defending ACC champion. "Everybody is already fired up for the start of the season," he said. "It just takes it to another level having the opportunity to play a high-level team."

In other news and notes:

*Saturday's game will be the first start for sophomore quarterback Kiehl Frazier. "I am really excited about seeing him play," Holland said.

"He has improved a lot," added Holland, who noted that he believes the sophomore QB will improve throughout the season. "I think he is going to be great for us."

*Running backs coach Curtis Luper said which tailback gets the bulk of the carries on Saturday night will depend "on who gets the most yards."

For the opener, senior Onterio McCalebb sits atop the depth chart at tailback. Sophomore Tre Mason and redshirt freshman Mike Blakely are all expected to carry the football vs. Clemson. Corey Grant, who has been limited by an injury, could be available if needed.

Tre Mason, who missed some preseason practice time with an injury, is full speed and ready to go for the opener, according to his position coach.

*New secondary coach Willie Martinez said he likes what he has seen from a trio of freshman cornerbacks. Two of those players, Jonathan Jones and Josh Holsey, are expected to play vs. Clemson on special teams. The other freshman, T.J. Davis, is off to a good start, too, according to Martinez. "T.J. has really done well and I am excited about him," he said. "I am excited about those three young kids."

*Martinez will be one of two Auburn coaches in the press box this season along with offensive coordinator and QB coach Scot Loeffler. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and the other full-time assistants will be on the sidelines during the games.

*The Tigers, who finished 8-5 last year, are beginning their 120th season of football competition. Auburn is ranked 25th in the coaches poll and is not in the AP Top 25. Clemson is 14th in both polls.

*The Auburn Network radio broadcast will go on the air at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The coverage features Rod Bramblett doing play-by-play, Stan White handling the color, Quentin Riggins as the sideline reporter and Paul Ellen is the studio host.

*The game will also be carried on radio by Dial Global Sports with John Tautges doing play by play and Terry Donahue the analyst.

*Television coverage of the opener will begin at 6 p.m. CDT on ESPN from the Georgia Dome, where Auburn's all-time record is 5-3. Brad Nessler will do the play-by-play, Todd Blackledge will be the analyst and Holly Rowe is the sideline reporter.

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