With Carl Lawson out with a knee injury and not much proven pass rushing talent behind senior LaDarius Owens, Auburn is flirting with the idea of using the 250-pound middle linebacker at defensive end in some situations. Johnson said while it’s tough to get the work needed in practice at the moment it’s something they want to give a long look to see if it will work.
“We’re working McKinzy a little bit,” Johnson said. “Every time I can steal time from my practice schedule to get Cass I get him over there to Rodney (Garner). He needs the skill sets with his handwork and his footwork because he’s probably as far as the first step, the ability to flip his hips drop his hips, the power that you have to have sometimes to be a good pass rusher, he’s got them all. But when you play linebacker you don’t’ work at that very long during the practice schedule. So I’m trying to get times where I can get him to Rodney to work on those things. We’ll eventually, hopefully, get him involved in that pass rush group if he can bring something to the table.”
McKinzy gets after Dak Prescott
It’s not a skill-set that is foreign to McKinzy after playing that role on occasion at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham. Saying it’s just a matter of getting some reps to get the feel back as a pass rusher, McKinzy believes he can get the job done if called upon and so does Johnson.
“When we go one-on-one with the running backs he's the best I've got, with them trying to block him,” Johnson said. “He's gotten up to around 250; maybe a little more. He's still one of the quicker kids we've got. He can sink his hips and drop his pad level. He can flip his hips and make the turn, he can do a lot of things (as a pass rusher) but he doesn't know how to do them right now. So we've got to get him more repetitions at that."
Trying to help out the team as a pass rusher if needed, McKinzy’s main job is still going to be as a linebacker. Playing alongside good friend and fellow junior Kris Frost, McKinzy said the duo has settled in well after switching positions and feel like their best football is ahead of them.
“I'd say it'll be hard for a scrambling quarterback to get outside the box,” he said. “Both of us are really physical. I think we're going to bring a much more physical presence with both of us on the field at the same time. One of the main things on our defense is to stop the run, and I feel like with both of us being in the box and having a good (chemistry) with each other, we'll do that.”
Making some strides last season as a defense in the first year under Ellis Johnson, the Tigers have plenty of key pieces returning in 2014 and that means the expectations are for an even better product on the field this fall. McKinzy said while some may be sleeping on Auburn’s defense he expects big things from his guys.
“I feel like we should be the top defense -- not even in just the SEC, but in the nation,” McKinzy said. “It's going to take a lot of work. It's going to take a lot of concentration. It's going to take a lot of mistakes, too. We've got a lot of starters coming back, and since I've been here, I've been in two or three different defensive systems and we've never had a chance to get into (a rhythm). But now I feel like we can be top-five or even the best.”