BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. – Listed as the projected third starting linebacker out of spring football in 2012: Kris Frost, coming off a redshirt year and looking to line up next to Daren Bates and Jake Holland.
However, then-defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder had cautionary words for Frost, labeling him a “developmental player” teeming with athleticism where he lacked in awareness.
“He still doesn’t see things. It’s still a fast game to him, I guess is the best way to put it,” VanGorder said last spring. “He’s got to be able to calm his game down. He will – it’s just a matter of when that will happen.”
It didn’t happen the ensuing fall, at least not in VanGorder’s eyes. Frost settled for a backup role behind Bates while the Tigers employed mostly a nickel defense with two linebackers on the field. (Jonathan Evans was technically the ‘sam’ linebacker starter.)
Not that Frost was a headcase, but he didn’t appear soon to preside over instructional tapes explaining how to play defense. Which is why Frost turned heads last Wednesday following the first spring practice under new coordinator Ellis Johnson, sounding like a brand-new man.
“There’s a lot of stuff I had to learn last year when it came to the concept of football, that I just didn’t know,” Frost said. “Being a student of the game was really my most important thing last year, and I feel like I did that. I got a major leg up on this season.
“Little different defense, but the concepts are still the same. Certain things on the field still have to be taken care of.”
Like tackling – an oft-headache for VanGorder and part of the reason that entire staff was dismissed. Johnson’s 4-2-5 set means it’s almost guaranteed there will only be two pure linebackers on the field at all times.
While Johnson insisted depth chart projections are ‘in pencil’ this early in spring, he indicated the senior Holland is double-training at mike and will, while Frost is learning how to play the mike position. Sophomore Cassanova McKinzy, who siphoned playing time in 2012 from Holland, is playing will.
“They’re younger: I don’t want to get them confused,” Johnson said. “Jake’s a little older – I’ve got him right now trying to pick up both.”
Said Frost: “I feel comfortable at mike. I’m liking it. Anytime I can be vocal, I like it. It’s fun making the calls and everything.”
That means Frost, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound sophomore from Matthews, N.C., is in the driver’s seat to take command as the heart of this defense.
“I feel like the communication is greater in this type of offense, communicating with the defensive line, the fellow linebacker right beside you, as well as the safety when he’s coming down and making sure your voice gets heard,” Frost said. “You still have your responsibility. Football’s football and linebacker’s linebacker. We’re all learning a lot.”
Frost had five tackles in 10 games his freshman year, saving his top effort for the finale – three tackles and forcing a second-half fumble (recovered by Auburn safety Ryan Smith) in the 49-0 shellacking at the hands of Alabama.
“Being a student of the game is really being willing to learn – being open to different things, being willing to sit down and be coachable, listen and work to get yourself better,” Frost said. “You’ve got to open yourself up and make it important for you to learn.
“The more you watch film and make an effort to learn, the more you’ll come out prepared. It becomes second nature to you.”
Does Frost expect to start?
“Of course. If you’re not, you’re in the wrong sport,” Frost said. “I feel really confident going into this season.”