That starts at middle linebacker where Kris Frost made a serious move during the spring with veteran Jake Holland missing some important practice and meeting time because of classes. Playing a very minor role last season as a redshirt freshman, Johnson says that he sees some good things out of Frost right now but like the rest of the group he's got a long way to go before he's ready to take on the full load at linebacker for the Tigers.
"Kris has got an edge on it," Johnson says. "Jake missed a lot of meeting time and some practices this spring with some class conflicts and Kris made a lot of really good practice. My linebacker depth chart in total is very fluid right now. Guys are having bright spots and then low points etc. The overall improvement has been good, it's steadily gotten better but there have been some periods of time in that improvement when one time will come out and have a better day than the other guy. I wouldn't rule out anybody right now.
"Kris, physically, has all the tools. He's big enough, he's fast enough, he likes contact, he's got good coverage speed, and he's a good space player. The thing that he's lacking right now is consistency. He'll come out some days and make some missed assignments that will really get you in trouble. Not only in his position, but he'll make a call as a Mike linebacker and it will be like a quarterback calling a wrong formation. You have to call a timeout or you'll have a busted play because of it."
One thing that Johnson wants out of his linebackers is the ability to get players lined up correctly and execute the defense, but he won't sacrifice playmaking ability just for that purpose. That could make this summer a very interesting one for redshirt freshman Javiie Mitchell.
Signed out of Leeds High where he played mostly defensive line for the Green Wave, Mitchell got a little practice time in last fall before injuries cut short his role on the scout team for the Tigers. Jumping into the Star position early in spring practice, Mitchell was moved to the Will (weakside) linebacker spot by Johnson around the midway point of the spring and everything fell into place.
A physical player because of his history playing on the defensive line, and also fast enough to run on the track team in high school, Mitchell's progression at linebacker over the spring has been one of the surprises for Auburn. Putting himself in position to earn a starting job next fall, Johnson says Mitchell needs to put in the work to get the job done.
"The first practice he was in there he looked like he'd practiced just as long as any other linebacker I had," Johnson says of the move from Star to linebacker for Mitchell. "I put him in the scrimmage the next day and he got about 18 to 20 snaps before he got the concussion and was playing as well as most of the other linebackers had been playing. He was making tackles and doing some things naturally fundamentally and then he got the concussion and he had a week out and he stepped back a bit.
"That was the only thing that frustrated me with my entire linebacker picture is I think he's got a shot to be a starter and I think he showed enough of that in those two or three practices early, but then he digressed and was kind of like starting over again. I think he's got a chance to jump right in the middle of it. He's going to be in the two-deep and going to be competing for that job."