More Confidence For Cassanova

Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy has trimmed down and said he feels like his game is coming around under the guidance of Ellis Johnson.

Auburn, Ala.--One of the biggest fans of Auburn's change on defense to a 4-2-5 scheme has been talented sophomore linebacker Cassanova McKinzy.

Down from 254 pounds he weighed during his freshman season to a solid 241 as the Tigers prepare to face Washington State in the season opener on Aug. 31, McKinzy said he's excited about his role on the weak side of Auburn's defense..

"I actually like it because I get a chance to show what I really can do besides playing the box and stopping the run," he said after Tuesday evening's practice. "It gives me an opportunity to show everything I can do."

"I felt like I had to drop weight so I can run with the receivers since I wasn't playing middle linebacker anymore," he added. "I transferred to will (weakside linebacker) so I had to cover a little bit more."

Under the guidance of Auburn's new defensive coordinator and linebacker coach, Ellis Johnson, McKinzy noted he has taken critics of his play to heart. The first advice was to get in better shape. Forced to trim down to face the Tigers' offense every day in practice, the Birmingham native said he's really understanding what it takes to succeed in this defense.

"I had to start out from taking advice from Coach Johnson, who told me to lose weight," McKinzy noted. "I was thinking that since I was playing in the SEC that I had to be a little heavy. That's really not the point. I transferred my spring over to my fall. I think I'm doing pretty well as far as understanding the concepts. I'm starting to believe in what the coaches are talking about."

The move to weakside linebacker has been a breath of fresh air for the sophomore after struggling last season in Brian VanGorder's complex system. Having to call the defensive signals while still learning to play the game in the SEC was a tough experience, he said.

"Making the calls and controlling the defense," McKinzy said when asked what he struggled with last year. "I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I'm just saying that you've got to make the call, make sure all the linemen are right and then you have to do your assignment. Then you have to make all the checks. This is SEC football--you have to make a lot of checks. Communicating with the D-linemen was the hardest part."

That is something that McKinzy has seen his running mate Jake Holland handle the last two seasons and excel in this preseason. Singled out for his play in practice by Johnson, McKinzy said Holland has definitely shown his leadership and skills in practice as the Tigers get ready to open the season.

"Out of the whole group I feel like he's the most consistent," McKinzy said. "That's a good thing, him being a senior. He's a leader on the field and that's what we need. We need people like me and the other linebackers to be like him. He's a senior, very consistent."

Admitting that he is playing much faster now after his learning experience in 2012, McKinzy said that while it didn't always go well he's thankful for the experience he got playing as a true freshman.

"Last year by me playing the little time I played, I feel like it did a lot for this year playing SEC games," McKinzy said. "Coaches had been saving me for those out-of-conference games. They always put me in to stop the run. I appreciate what they did last year by giving me a chance when they came. It's transferred over to this season and helped me."

With McKinzy, Holland and Kris Frost the top three linebackers heading into the opener, the Tigers are preparing for the air raid offense from Mike Leach and the Cougars. Knowing they will be facing pass after pass, McKinzy said it's all about preparation and making plays when they have the opportunity.

"It's a tricky offense," he noted. "Compared against our offense, it takes patience. They're going to get first downs. They're going to move the ball. You just have to have patience. It's just starting to build up."

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