Coach Says Position Changes Look Promising

Auburn's defensive coordinator talks about position changes the Tigers are looking at this spring.

Auburn, Ala.--After the Auburn football Tigers worked out for two hours in full pads on Thursday the team's defensive coordinator said that the experiments at the linebacker spots are showing signs of progress.

Ellis Johnson, who also works as the position coach for the linebackers, moved returning weakside starter Cassanova McKinzy to middle linebacker. Kris Frost, who saw a significant amount of playing time as the No. 2 middle linebacker behind 2013 senior Jake Holland, is working at the weakside spot.

"Some of it physically has been very good," Johnson said of the linebacker moves. "Kris has made a real quick transition and has looked really good. Cassanova has been bothered by a bruised bone in his hip and he has not been practicing very much. The three days he was healthy and full speed out there he had some really good practices.

Cassanova McKinzy led the 2013 Tigers in tackles.

"If I had to throw a guess out there right now, if both of them were back to full speed I would probably leave McKinzy at the mike (middle) and keep Frost at the will (weakside)," the coach said.

"At today's practice Kris played both and as the practice went on he rotated at both spots," Johnson pointed out. "I would like for them to continue to do that. We had a lot of linebackers last year. It was sort of a linebacker by committee. I'm not sure we're going to have that many guys.

"If we get into a situation in the fall where I only feel like we've got three guys that are ready, I want the ability to play those guys at mike or will. I want to the third best guy on the field with them wherever he is. If we develop some better depth I see Cassanova at the mike and Kris at the will."

Kenny Flowers, who saw limited playing time last year as redshirt sophomore transfer from junior college, is getting plenty of work at linebacker this spring as is Cameron Toney, another 2013 signee who redshirted after coming to AU from Huntsville High.

Another linebacker, Javiie Mitchell, won't be able to practice until August as he continues to heal after suffering a fractured bone in his foot in the SEC Championship Game. Johnson said that Mitchell, a former high school defensive linemen, could have benefitted from spring practice more than any of the other linebackers. "I certainly feel like he's still going to be in the picture," the coach noted.

Justin Garrett, who split his time between weakside linebacker and "star" position last season, is working exclusively at the "star" spot right now, but could also practice at linebacker later this spring.

Another linebacker, Anthony Swain, is dealing with an off-the-field issue and Johnson said he isn't sure when he will get the junior back on the practice field.

"Flowers is having a better spring--a little better consistency than he has had in the past," Johnson said. "He is doing some good things. I think he has still got a lot of improvement to do."

Commenting on Toney, the defensive coordinator said that the redshirt freshman "has caught on pretty well" through the first five of 15 spring practices. "When you put them on the scout team and decide to redshirt them they don't many reps at your base defense," the coach noted.

"He is almost going to back to square one learning what he is doing," Johnson said. "He has had a pretty solid spring. None of them have really jumped out and had anything dynamic, but I feel like I'm gaining some confidence in all of them."

In addition to moving personnel at the linebacker spots, the Tigers are giving defensive tackles Gabe Wright and Montravius Adams reps at end.

Montravius Adams is shown in action in spring drills.

"It really hasn't been much of a luxury as it's been a necessity," Johnson said. "In addition to being very thin at defensive end in spring practice. We Elijah (Daniel) got a groin the very first drill of the very first practice so we've actually got Montravius and Gabe working out at defensive end more as a necessity than as an evaluation." Johnson said he hopes to have Daniel back in action next week.

Commenting on Adams and Wright, the coach said, "Both of them do some pretty impressive things out there, but we need their depth and rotation in the interior line so I don't foresee that being permanent. It would be good that if we did have some unusual rash of injuries next year or something occur those guys have got the ability to maybe go out there and help us."

Making the defensive end situation more thin this spring is that returning starter LaDarius Owens is out with a broken bone in his foot. Justin Delaine, a little-used backup, did not return for his senior season and the Tigers must replace 2013 seniors Dee Ford and Craig Sanders along with Nosa Eguae and Kenneth Carter.

Other Tigers playing end this spring include redshirt sophomore Gimel President and 6-4, 242 sophomore Chase Robison, a transfer from Texas Tech who redshirted last fall.

Inside at the tackle the depth situation looks better with Jeff Whitaker, Angelo Blackson plus Wright all having starting experience while Ben Bradley and Adams played extensively last season. One of the little used tackles, Tyler Nero, was injured at Thursday's practice. AU coaches did not comment on how serious the problem is for the redshirt sophomore, but an AU official said the injury is not believed to be serious. The lineman, who got dizzy at Thursday's practice, is being checked for possible concussion symptoms.

Gabe Wright is a returning starter at tackle.

Looking at the big picture defensively, Johnson said there has been a "lot of retention" from last season. "There is a great advantage of having the system in two years in a row. The attitude has have been great, the work habits have been good.

"One of our primary focuses this year already having our system in and knowing a little bit more about what we're doing, it's been a real focus on personnel--getting people in the right place and trying to identify those people who didn't help us very much last year, due to age, inexperience or injury, seeing who is going to emerge and get into that two-deep and help us.

"We still got a long way to go, both from the standpoint of our improvement and from the standpoint of number of practices. We do have a few guys making some positive steps, but right now we still have long way to and a lot of time for guys to make those moves."

The Tigers will wrap up their second week of workout with their first scrimmage of spring drills on Saturday.

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