Price Welcomes McKenzie With Open Arms

Coach Terry Price talks about the move of Gabe McKenzie to defensive end and how he fits into the position.

Auburn, Ala.--One of the top athletes on the Auburn roster, Gabe McKenzie was a standout at defensive end at Davidson High in Mobile before becoming a tight end for the Tigers. Now less than two weeks before the season opener in his junior season McKenzie is making the move back to defense for Auburn.

Not a good fit for Tony Franklin's offense that stresses more of a true receiver for the tight end position, McKenzie saw the writing on the wall with Tommy Trott and Tim Hawthorne expected to get much of the work at that spot. Because of that coach Tommy Tuberville got a visitor recently as McKenzie came to him and requested a move to defense. That's something that defensive end coach Terry Price said he didn't see coming but he's not complaining.

"You just don't know how a situation is going to play itself out," Price said. "It just happened where it was one of those situations where we needed some help at that position. He wanted to move to defense. It kind of worked out like it worked out. I can't say I expected him to come over when camp started but now that he's with us we're going to try to work with him the best we can."

A player that was wanted by both sides of the ball coming out of high school, McKenzie worked hard at the tight end position to become a capable receiver. Always a powerful blocker, McKenzie had already shown Price over the years what he could expect from him when he made the move to defense.

"Tight ends and defensive ends do a lot of competition against each other every single day in practice," Price said. "I obviously know about him and know about his ability. It's something he wanted to do and I welcome that with open arms. We're going to work with him the best we can and see if we can get him ready to play defensive end in the SEC."

With Michael Goggans the starter heading into the season on the strong side, McKenzie will have a chance to work into the playing rotation behind him along with true freshman Jomarcus Savage, junior college transfer Raven Gray and redshirt freshman A.J. Greene. Price said the decision to play him on the strong side was made because it's an easier spot to learn.

"From a learning point of view it's probably a little bit easier because you don't have to worry about dropping into coverage and doing some of the things you have to do in a 3-4," Price said. "You still have to understand all the complexities of all the pressures and the blitzes and all those things. It's a little less challenging as far as that's concerned."

With just nine practice days on defense before the season opener, there is little doubt it's going to be tough for McKenzie to play much of an active role against Louisiana-Monroe. That doesn't mean he won't see action though as the basics should come pretty easy for a smart and veteran player like McKenzie. As to how much he can help right away, Price said that remains to be seen.

"It just depends on how fast he develops," Price said. "It's hard to tell after one day. Obviously he has athletic ability and he has toughness. He runs well. Now it's a matter of learning the defense and learning the techniques it takes to play out there.

"He showed good ability," Price added. "He showed the ability to run obviously and he's physical. He's got some physical toughness. He's very eager to learn. He wants to learn as much as he can. Obviously he has the athletic ability to play out there. Now it's a matter of learning technique."

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Bothered by a shoulder injury suffered in Saturday's scrimmage, Savage got some good news on Monday as the doctors said there is no structural damage to his left shoulder. Price said that is big for him because it should allow him to get back in time to help the team early in the season.

"It was very, very encouraging," Price said. "A young player like that needs to be out there every single day. Any time you hurt a shoulder you never know how bad it is. A few days off, surgery, you just never know. It's very good that he won't have to have any major surgery right now. He's going to work hard and rehab and get out there as soon as he can.

"His situation is really in flux right now," he added. "We've got Mike Goggans that is established right now as the starter at that position. We're still trying to figure out who is behind at that position right now. He was doing well before he got hurt. We'll have to get him healthy and get all of the guys on the field and evaluate them and see where they sit."

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