On Sunday evening, he was back on the football practice field putting to use his expanded knowledge. Head coach Tommy Tuberville and defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads say the converted tight end knows enough about his new position at defensive end to see action on Saturday night vs. Louisiana-Monroe.
"I was a good defensive player in high school, I believe," says McKenzie, who was a two-way standout at Davidson High in Mobile. "People looked up to me on the D-line."
The last time that the Auburn junior lined up for a football game on defense was in the third round of the 6A state playoffs his senior season in high school. However, McKenzie suggested he move to defense last week rather than playing as a backup to fellow junior Tommy Trott at tight end.
"Tight end wise we are fine now, but we might not have enough bodies at defensive end to play a whole game so I feel like me being a big body I can help this team more on defense," McKenzie says. "If they need me on offense, they can bring me over there and I will be glad to help."
Rhoads says he is glad to have McKenzie on defense, a player he calls "raw, raw and talented at the same time."
The Auburn defensive coordinator notes he chatted with McKenzie following Sunday evening's practice. "He just grabbed me in the training room and just talked about how defensive conditioning and offensive conditioning are completely different," Rhoads says. "He was a little gassed out at practice today. The tempo is a little bit different.
"At the same time he is having to think because it is new to him, but he shows explosiveness," Rhoads adds. "He shows athletic ability. I think he is certainly at a position he belongs at and we are excited to see over here."
Gabe McKenzie is shown at a summer workout earlier this year.
McKenzie is running second team at strongside defensive end behind another player who moved from tight end to defensive end, sophomore Michael Goggans. Raven Gray, who was expected to challenge for a starting spot, has been limited in practice while still recovering from a knee injury. Gray, a junior, is questionable whether or not he will play in the opener.
A.J. Green, a redshirt freshman, can play there, too, but hasn't made a serious push for a starting spot yet. Jomarcus Savage, a true freshman, should be ready, if needed, after bouncing back from a shoulder injury suffered in the second preseason scrimmage.
McKenzie says he is doing his best to get his assignments down perfectly. "We have different packages and I am trying to learn all of them," he says. "My coach (Terry Price) knows I am trying to learn it because I am telling him everything about the plays when I meet with him."