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September 3, 2013

ODDS AND ENDS: Notes and quotes from Gus Malzahn’s Tuesday press conference

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Defensive end Dee Ford (left knee injury) and “Star” Justin Garrett (left foot sprain), who both sat out against Washington State, were back at practice Monday. Naturally, it led to questions about their availability for this Saturday’s game.

Gus Malzahn kept his comments curt on the matter.

Senior defensive Dee Ford missed Auburn's season opener against Washington State with a left knee injury. Head coach Gus Malzahn said he was back at practice Monday, but was unsure whether the senior would be able to play this Saturday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Senior defensive Dee Ford missed Auburn’s season opener against Washington State with a left knee injury. Head coach Gus Malzahn said he was back at practice Monday, but was unsure whether the senior would be able to play this Saturday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

“We’re hoping,” Auburn’s head coach said.

The status of Jeff Whitaker isn’t as murky.

He’ll be out for an extended period of time after injuring his right knee and undergoing surgery last week. The senior defensive tackle was seen on crutches prior to kickoff last Saturday. At this point, Malzahn said Whitaker is week-to-week.

Contingent upon how much time he misses, Malzahn said pursuing a medical redshirt was a definite possibility.

“Hopefully we can get him back sooner rather than later but if that does happen, we’ll have that conversation,” he said. “We’ve not had that conversation yet. Jeff is a leader on our team, if not the leader, and he’s very important to us as a whole.”

Linebackers’ lack of influence doesn’t faze Malzahn

Auburn’s linebackers had a rough go of it versus Washington State – and that’s putting it lightly. The unit had only five total tackles, with four from Kris Frost and one courtesy of Cassanova McKinzy. Malzahn wasn’t worried, however.

He said it was more a function of the Cougars’ pass-happy offense than anything the linebackers did wrong.

“Sometimes when teams pass the ball as much as they did, it takes the linebackers kind of out of the game,” he said. “I think we’ll learn more as we go, the more we face running teams.”

MORE MALZAHN QUOTES

On the victory over Washington State:

“It was a big win for us. I’m really proud of our guys. They found a way to win. My biggest question was how were we going to deal with adversity, and we had quite a bit of it on both sides of the football, but they overcame it. Also, it gave us a chance to see where we’re at as a team, and that was a big question for me going into this game and our coaches. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we know that and our players know that. But the good thing is most of the things that we saw are correctable. We’re playing a bunch of young, inexperienced guys, and they’ll have a chance to improve. I’ve been saying our goal is real simple: It’s to improve each practice and each game, and so we’re going to hold true to that, and I believe we definitely can do that.”

On watching the film from the game:

“The thing about an offense is all 11 guys have to be doing their job or it gets pretty ugly. Most of our plays that we didn’t execute, it was one or two guys, but it still makes everything look really bad. I believe we’ll have a chance to get better and improve in that area.

“Defensively, it’s kind of the same thing. One or two mistakes makes you look different, too. But I’m going to tell you this: A lot of that first game was about evaluation for us. We learned a lot about our players. We thought we had ideas about certain things, and some things were exactly what we thought and some things were a little bit different.”

On how much of the Tigers’ offensive playbook was used last Saturday:

“My big thing is you’ve got to be able to adjust in first games, because you think you know how they’re going to play and then you get out there and it’s usually a little bit different. We’re just not to that point where we can have our whole playbook to adjust. We’ll get there. But we’ve got a plan, you take it in and you have tweaks off of it, but each week we’ll add more stuff and get more comfortable.”

On players that impressed him in the season opener:

Montravius (Adams) was one of them, there’s no doubt. Our secondary overall really played well. They played specifically man in the second half against some pretty good receivers, and I thought they did a good job. Trovon Reed probably graded out as high as anybody did. Didn’t have a whole lot of snaps, but he’ll have more. He did a lot of things right.”

On developing a “go-to” receiver:

We still haven’t found him, I’ll tell you that. Hopefully here in the next game or two, everything will come to light. At the same time, a lot of them weren’t given a whole lot of chances, so we need to give them a few more chances. Then I think we’ll figure out who that guy is.”

On his heated exchange with receiver Ricardo Louis on the sideline last week:

“I did? I chewed a lot of people out.”

On Tre Mason’s fumble late in the fourth quarter:

“That was a big turnover. That was a very critical play. As a coach, sometimes you just get a feel and when you’re trying to build a program, there’s certain things that as a coach you just use your instincts and you try to give a guy like that an opportunity. I know a lot about Tre from the fact that I coached him before. He’s a competitor. He was disappointed. I wanted to give him a chance to redeem himself. He did that. I think that’ll help us moving forward.”

On the possibility of running the Wildcat with Cameron Artis-Payne:

“He’s a big, strong back. He can find ways to get yards, maybe when everything’s not perfect. The Wildcat’s pretty unique because you put a guy back there and there’s a good chance you’re going to run it and he’s got some playmaking ability.”

August 26, 2013

Auburn football: Coordinators discuss positional rotations prior to depth chart release

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn has yet to release a depth chart heading into its season opener against Washington State on Saturday.

Until that time comes — it is expected to be released at some point Tuesday — which players will fill out the two-deep lineup remains a mystery. One of those positions is safety, where the dismissal of senior safety Demetruce McNeal left a gaping hole.

Senior cornerback Chris Davis (11) was one player Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had no worries about heading into Saturday's season opener versus Washington State. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Senior cornerback Chris Davis (11) was one player Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had no worries about heading into Saturday’s season opener versus Washington State. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Former cornerback Josh Holsey stepped in at the spot during the spring and stayed there for the duration of fall camp. With McNeal gone and barring any issues arising between now and the opener, Holsey will take the field as the team’s starting boundary safety.

As it stands, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said he was comfortable with three safeties as Saturday nears.

“You’ve got Holsey, Ryan Smith and (Jermaine) Whitehead,” Johnson said. “So I think right now, it would have to be some kind of a three-man rotation. Unless one of them got hurt, and then Kiehl Frazier will be ready to go.”

It was the same story at the two linebacker positions, Johnson said, at ease with the trio of Jake Holland, Kris Frost and Anthony Swain.

“I think Jake could move to the Will (line)backer if he had to,” Johnson said of the likely starter at middle linebacker. “Swain’s had a pretty good week of practice. I think first I’d probably put Swain on the field if he played well and did OK. If not, I’d move Jake over there. Frost and Holland are (the) only players at Mike right now.”

Johnson reiterated that view when asked whether weakside linebacker Cassanova McKinzy would stay on the field in Auburn’s dime package and shift to the middle, where he played last season.

“Cass hasn’t worked any at that,” he said. “It’s just too much for him to learn right now. When we go to dime, whatever Mike linebacker is on the field stays out there. They’re not asked to do anything outside the box. There’s really nothing they physically can’t handle, but we’ll usually leave that mike linebacker on the field. It’s about the fewest number of guys going on and off the field.”

The three-man approach didn’t stop with linebackers and safeties, though. Johnson said it also extended to cornerback, where the Tigers are content with Chris Davis, Jonathon Mincy and Ryan White. Auburn is still trying to find a replacement for Jonathan Jones, who broke a bone in his ankle in an off-field accident near the end of fall camp. No timetable has been announced for his return.

The three players vying for time in Jones’ absence all lack experience, comprised of a redshirt freshman (T.J. Davis) and a pair of true freshmen (Kamryn Melton and Johnathan Ford).

Ford in particular has continued to impress Johnson since moving from running back to cornerback following Jones’ injury.

“Johnathan’s still learning. He’s not ready yet, but he physically is the most impressive of the bunch,” Johnson said. “You never know how much improvement they can make when we restrict the game plan and cut it down for them mentally. Sometimes that hesitation and confusion can lead to playing poorly fundamentally. If we clean that up, I think he is really going to be a good player there.”

Unlike the defense, the offense has few positions still undecided.

One is at right tackle, where Patrick Miller and Avery Young split reps throughout fall camp. Young, however, started to switch between tackle and guard as fall camp came to a close. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee couldn’t find enough good things to say about the sophomore, who sat out spring practice while rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

Though the average person may not know finer points of what it takes to be an offensive lineman, Lashlee believed Young would be easy to spot even to the untrained eye.

Young’s talent stands on its own merit.

“He’s an athletic guy,” Lashlee said. “At guard he can really pull. At tackle he’s very athletic, really good in the run game. Shoot, he hasn’t done it yet, but he would probably be a really good center. He’s just a real versatile guy.”

August 23, 2013

Miss anything? Links to all recent Auburn content in one place

Auburn 31, ULM Louisiana-Monroe 28

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Some may remember a post on WarEagleExtra.com two weeks ago which linked to 19 different stories at one time.

Well, it’s the same deal here. There have been 22 additions to the blog since Monday (not including this post, of course), and with almost 48 hours remaining until we get to speak with any of Auburn’s players or coaches again — we’ll be speaking with coordinators, Ellis Johnson and Rhett Lashlee on Sunday evening, for those wondering — it would be a good time to get caught up on all the latest goings-on with the Tigers.

So don’t frustrate yourself by trying to scroll down to take in every piece of content that’s been produced in the last four days. That’s what this post is here for: to make it simpler for you, the reader, by having everything compiled in one place.

If you’re looking for a notebook, we’ve got it. A feature? That too. Videos? Yes sir. Whatever you want, you should be able to find below. (And as per usual, each item is sectioned accordingly.)

NEWS & NOTES

8/19 — Injuries to keep Dee Ford and Jonathan Jones out of season opener

8/20 — True freshman Johnathan Ford switching from running back to cornerback

8/20 — Former Tigers Demetruce McNeal and Ricky Parks find new schools

8/20 — Gus Malzahn looks back at first fall camp as Tigers coach, feels team covered ‘all of our situations’

8/21 — 2014 schedule has Tigers hosting Arkansas in opener, traveling to Georgia and Alabama

8/22 — Six Tigers selected to coaches’ All-SEC preseason teams

8/22 — Demetruce McNeal officially enrolled at West Alabama

8/22 — Kiehl Frazier ‘in the mix’ for playing time in season opener, Justin Garrett returns to practice

VIDEO INTERVIEWS, POST-PRACTICE

8/19 — Gus Malzahn: Head coach says Nick Marshall ‘was a lot more vocal’ in first practice as starting QB

8/19 — Nick Marshall feels ‘blessed’ to start at quarterback for Tigers

8/19 — Rhett Lashlee says Nick Marshall ‘taking it and running with’ quarterback responsibilities

8/20 — Ellis Johnson has seen improvement ‘with past four practices’ after spate of injuries disrupt cohesiveness

8/20 — Auburn offense finds ‘best rhythm that we’ve had since I’ve been back’ in final practice of fall camp

8/21 — Junior defensive tackles Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright

8/23 — Gus Malzahn pleased to see Nick Marshall ‘just as disappointed as the coaches’ when he makes a mistake

PLAYER/POSITION PROFILES

8/19 — Jonathan Wallace ahead of Jeremy Johnson in fight for backup QB spot

8/22 — Cassanova McKinzy believes weakside linebacker spot will showcase ‘everything I can do’

8/23 — Tigers not lacking for options in the backfield

MISCELLANEOUS ANALYSIS & SUCH

8/21 — Five questions (and five predictions) as Tigers head into regular season

8/22 — Replay Thursday’s live chat

8/23 — 4 at 4: Links to help the day pass by

August 22, 2013

UPDATED (w/video):Cassanova McKinzy believes weakside linebacker spot will showcase ‘everything I can do’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — The raw numbers don’t come close to an accurate retelling Cassanova McKinzy’s 2012 season.

A true freshman, he played in eight games and made two starts. In that time on the field, he made 23 tackles and forced a fumble. And McKinzy did this, he admitted, playing in a position that didn’t suit him.

Cassanova McKinzy (30) felt he played out of position last season at middle linebacker. Now he's back on the weakside, where he feels much more comfortable. (File photo)

Cassanova McKinzy (30) felt he played out of position last season at middle linebacker. Now he’s back on the weakside, where he feels much more comfortable. (File photo)

A star at outside linebacker at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Ala., then-Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder had other ideas for McKinzy, deciding to shift him to middle linebacker. Forced to deal with making the calls for the defense negated his ability to simply react to the play, which McKinzy believes is his best attribute.

“You’ve got to make the call, make sure all the linemen are right and then you have to do your assignment,” he said. “Then you have to make all the checks. This is SEC football; you have to make a lot of checks. Communicating with the D-linemen was the hardest part.”

McKinzy also bulked up to 254 pounds last year, the highest weight of his playing career, believing it was required if he wanted to be able to compete in the SEC.

But when new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson arrived, weight was lifted off McKinzy’s shoulders, both literally and figuratively.

Johnson told him to cut some pounds from his frame: McKinzy was moving back to the weakside.

“I felt like I had to drop weight so I can run with the receivers since I wasn’t playing middle linebacker anymore,” he said, noting he now tips the scales at 241 pounds. “I transferred to Will, so I had to cover a little bit more.”

He couldn’t have been more pleased with the switch, finally back at a spot where he feels comfortable.

“I like it because I get a chance to show what I really can do besides playing the box and stopping the run,” he said. “It gives me an opportunity to show everything I can do.”

And during fall camp, Johnson said the sophomore did just that.

“His change of direction — redirect on counters, coming out of your break when you drop in zone and those types of things, just acceleration and explosion to the point of attack — he’s gotten better and he can practice longer at a high tempo,” Johnson said. “He would not finish a practice (in the spring) and I felt like he was too heavy and out of shape.”

McKinzy isn’t just playing faster since he’s lighter than last year. He said it’s also due to Johnson’s 4-2-5 system, which is far less complicated than the 4-3 scheme VanGorder used.

“It’s a big difference,” he said. “The only thing I’ve got to worry about is who I’m playing with — who is on my left , who is on my right, what my defensive line is doing in front of me. I feel more free.”

As the Tigers continue to prepare for the season opener against Washington State, McKinzy said the defense has been practicing out of both their base formation and a dime package. Against a team as pass-heavy as the Cougars, having an effective dime formation is integral.

McKinzy wasn’t sure which package the Tigers would use most often.

“It’s been a little bit more dime just in case,” he said. “We’ve got certain schemes we want to have base on the field because the size of the linebackers, the difference between a dime back, they’re much faster than an outside linebacker. We’ve just been working real hard on both because we don’t know what they can do.”

But McKinzy at least has a bit of an idea of the things that will occur on the field. He has that playing time last season to thank for it, after all.

Even if it came at a position that was an ill fit for him.

“By me playing the little time I played (last year), I feel like it did a lot for this year playing SEC games,” he said. “Coaches had been saving me for those out-of-conference games. They always put me in to stop the run. I appreciate what they did last year by giving me a chance when they came. “

August 11, 2013

Auburn football: Ellis Johnson says Jake Holland has ‘edge’ over Kris Frost at middle linebacker

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. —There’s a new name at the top of Auburn’s middle linebacker depth chart, and he’s no stranger to the starting lineup.

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Sunday that senior Jake Holland, who has started 16 games over the last two seasons, has vaulted past sophomore Kris Frost at the position.

Auburn senior Jake Holland has moved back to the top of the middle linebacker depth chart since  fall camp began. He excited the spring as the backup to Kris Frost at the position. (File photo)

Auburn senior Jake Holland has moved back to the top of the middle linebacker depth chart since fall camp began. He excited the spring as the backup to Kris Frost at the position. (File photo)

“I feel like Jake Holland has had two really good scrimmages,” Johnson said. “Everybody else has been inconsistent. He’s certainly right now got an edge on that starting spot, but it’s still a very good competition between him and Kris.”

Frost’s level of play hasn’t dropped since the spring, heading into the offseason as the No. 1 “Mike” linebacker. Johnson said the bigger factor has been Holland’s improvement.

“Jake’s better than he was in the spring,” he said. “He’s making plays. He’s the most consistent linebacker I’ve got, but he’s also making tackles and he’s done a lot of good things.”

There hasn’t been any change at the weakside spot, though, as Johnson said Cassanova McKinzy remains the starter. But his day-to-day form during fall camp has fluctuated far too much for Johnson.

“(McKinzy) continues to make the best linebacker plays and do some things that you really can’t coach,” he said. “The outstanding physicality, technique and those type of things (are there), but he’s been very inconsistent. Got to get more consistent in assignments and run fits, coverages, all of the above.”

Johnson’s biggest concern with the linebacker corps is finding players to fill out the rotation, ideally identifying four or five who will challenge for playing time.

“Because it’s very seldom that you get through the season with all of them healthy, he said. “Right now, it’s still a little bit muddled.”

There are a few players trying to work their way into the argument, with Johnson mentioning that Kenny Flowers, LaDarius Owens and Javiere Mitchell have been “doing some pretty good things” since fall camp started. They’re still well behind McKinzy, however, and Johnson said it’s the same story at middle linebacker, where Anthony Swain is still far outpaced by Holland and Frost.

Johnson said that inexperience doesn’t excuse some lapses, though.

“I think a little bit of the over-installation has created some of the mental mistakes,but we’re not tackling as well as we should,” he said. “I don’t think we’re doing a lot of things in a lot of areas as well as we should.”

August 6, 2013

Tigers still trying to sort out playing time at linebacker

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s veteran linebackers put the summer to good use.

Sophomore weakside linebacker Cassanova McKinzy is one player who likely won't have to worry about his playing time this fall. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson wasn't nearly as certain about the rest of the positional depth chart. (File photo)

Sophomore weakside linebacker Cassanova McKinzy is one player who likely won’t have to worry about his playing time this fall. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson wasn’t nearly as certain about the rest of the positional depth chart. (File photo)

It didn’t take long for defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson to notice, either.

Every player picked up fall camp right where they left off in the spring — if not a tick better, Johnson said. From the weight they’ve lost in offseason workouts to the retention of coverage assignments, Johnson couldn’t be more pleased.

Now, the next test waits.

“The physicality of it, we don’t know,” Johnson said. “We’ve been running around with shorts, so we really don’t know. We’ll start to find out more in the next few days.”

The Tigers will don full pads for the first time this fall during Tuesday’s practice. And that’s when Johnson and the rest of the defensive coaching staff will weed out those who are merely workout warriors.

“Sometimes a player that doesn’t look real cute in a drill, he’s just a good natural player,” Johnson said. “Sometimes (you have) a player that can do all the things when you walk through the barrels and go out and run it five minutes later and he’s good, but when you run it five days later, he can’t remember. We’ll just have to see who surfaces.”

Like nearly every other position on the team, Johnson said he hasn’t begun to put together any semblance of a depth chart.

“I feel like there’s a few guys that have an edge on other guys but it’s certainly too early to say that a player has not played his way into contention or doesn’t have a chance,” he said. “We haven’t done enough at this point for me to tell you if a guy can play linebacker or not.”

Johnson had no worries about three of his most experienced players. With Kris Frost and Jake Holland battling for supremacy in the middle and Cassanova McKinzy on the weakside, Johnson was confident the Tigers wouldn’t lack for leadership.

McKinzy, in particular, has impressed Johnson with the gains he made in the offseason.

“He’s lost some weight and his change of direction — redirect on counters, coming out of your break when you drop in zone and those types of things, just acceleration and explosion to the point of attack — he’s gotten better and he can practice longer at a high tempo,” Johnson said. “He would not finish a practice and I felt like he was too heavy and out of shape. He did a good job of dropping some pounds and I think it really shows.”

Another pair of linebackers have made their presence known, too.

Anthony Swain has improved,” Johnson said. “Swain has moved into the Mike (middle) linebacker and LaDarius Owens has moved out to the Will (weakside). That took them a couple of days. They were a little out of sorts but they’ve started to pick things up.”

Owens has been moving between back and forth, though Johnson said his preference is to keep him at weakside for now. And Owens isn’t the only one cross-training at the two positions. To keep his options open, Johnson said there are multiple players learning both the Mike’s and Will’s responsibilities.

One player who may work his way into that rotation before fall camp concludes is Kenny Flowers.

Johnson couldn’t heap enough praise on the junior college transfer, enamored with his size and physical tools.

All Flowers has to do now is learn the defense.

“Physically, he’s in the right company. He belongs right where he is in the SEC,” Johnson said. “I think he’s going to give us some good plays this year. Everything right now is sort of a crystal ball. I don’t know that he is (going to be good), but I think he will.”

August 5, 2013

Auburn Practice Report, 8/5: Demetruce McNeal sits out fourth straight practice

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Reporters were permitted to see about 20 minutes of practice on Monday, which marked Day 4 of Auburn’s fall camp. Here are some thoughts and observations from the media’s short viewing window.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn gives his players directions before it begins on of its fall practices. (File by Todd Van Emst)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn gives his players directions before it begins one of its fall practices. (File by Todd Van Emst)

  • Safety Demetruce McNeal continues to be the headliner during the media’s short stay at practice. For the fourth time in as many days of fall camp, the senior did not participate in drills while reporters were in attendance. Including the final five sessions of the spring, it marks the ninth consecutive time the College Park, Ga., native missed an Auburn practice. As he did Saturday, McNeal had a helmet on. However, with the team practicing in “shells” (helmets and pads), the safety was sans shoulder pads. In his post-practice meeting with media member’s on Sunday, Gus Malzahn said McNeal was “getting better.” But apparently not good enough to be cleared to practice just yet.
  • Avery Young was with the first-team offensive line, working at right tackle. Young and Patrick Miller have seemingly been going back-and-forth at the position (in the first-team lineup) during the first few days of fall camp.
  • The defense was working on its “dime” package, which included two of the hybrid safety/linebacker “star” position players on the field at the same time in Justin Garrett and Robenson Therezie. Other members of the first-team defense (in that particular formation) had Dee Ford and Kenneth Carter manning the two ends and Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright inside. The linebackers were Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy and the secondary consisted of cornerbacks Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy and Jermaine Whitehead and Josh Holsey at safety.
  • Malzahn stayed around the quarterbacks for a few minutes, but then drifted over to watch the defense running through its various formations. The quarterbacks once again practiced their footwork today as well as executing proper handoffs. Jonathan Wallace and Nick Marshall worked with Cameron Artis-Payne, Tre Mason and Corey Grant, while Kiehl Frazier and Jeremy Johnson were paired with Johnathan Ford, Peyton Barber and Patrick Lymon.
  • Punt returners were mostly the same as it was during the portions of practice reporters saw Friday and Saturday. Wide receivers Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and Marcus Davis were back, as well as cornerback Chris Davis. There was one new member, however, as another receiver — true freshman Tony Stevens — joined the fray. Kick returners mostly stayed to form, too. Mason, Grant, Ford, cornerback Jonathan Jones and wide receiver Ricardo Louis were seen fielding kicks, with one new addition in Therezie.
  • Right guard Chad Slade got an earful from offensive line coach J.B. Grimes during one drill. As the line was practicing its footwork once the ball is snapped, Slade didn’t have his feet in the proper position — and Grimes let him know it. “Check your splits!” said Grimes, before moving the junior’s feet where they needed to be. “I’m trying to help you!”
  • The media once again walked out as the team finished up its stretching drills with strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell. If there’s one thing I’ve come to appreciate while Russell leads drills, it’s that he has an incredible amount of energy. It’s no wonder the team has touted his offseason workout program at every opportunity.

August 1, 2013

Auburn football: Jersey changes among veterans, freshman and JUCO transfers receive numbers

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — Since my previous story touched extensively on Dee Ford’s decision to change his number — from No. 95 to No. 30 — why not take a look at some of the other numeric alterations on Auburn’s roster?

As reported in an earlier article this summer, defensive back Jonathon Mincy is changing from 21 to 6, while receiver Ricardo Louis is going from 6 to 5. Finally, linebacker Cassanova McKinzy is switching from from 30 to 8.

The Tigers’ incoming freshman class and junior college transfers also received their numbers on Thursday, as players officially reported for fall camp.

Here’s the list of Auburn’s newest additions, along with their respective jersey numbers:

  • Montravius Adams, DT (No. 1)
  • Dominic Walker, WR (No. 3)
  • Jeremy Johnson, QB (No. 6)
  • Tony Stevens, WR (No. 8)
  • Nick Marshall, QB (No. 14)***
  • Mackenro Alexander, DB (No. 21)
  • Khari Harding, DB (No. 22)
  • Johnathan Ford, RB (No. 23)
  • Peyton Barber, RB (No. 25)
  • Brandon King, DB (No. 29)***
  • Kenny Flowers, LB (No. 33)***
  • Kamryn Melton, DB (No. 37)
  • Daniel Carlson, K (No. 38)
  • Cameron Toney, LB (No. 47)
  • Carl Lawson, DE (No. 55)
  • Deon Mix, OL (No. 75)
  • Marcus Davis, WR (No. 80)
  • Elijah Daniel, DE (No. 97)

***Denotes junior college tranfer

Note: Punter Jimmy Hutchinson was the lone freshman on scholarship who has yet to be awarded a number.

March 31, 2013

‘Student of the Game’: Refocused Kris Frost prepared for larger linebacker responsibilities

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

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.”

March 21, 2013

Positional battles to watch: Linebackers

This is the second of an 8-day series previewing each Auburn position leading into spring football. Tomorrow: defensive line.

Photo by Todd Van Emst

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – It’ll take just two to tango – two linebackers, that is, in Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 defensive playbook.

In a way, Auburn’s already used to it, at least from a personnel perspective. While the official starting base package in 2012 was a 4-3, Jonathan Evans was commonly subbed out in favor of a nickelback – usually a complement of corners Chris Davis and Jonathan Mincy.

However, Johnson’s fifth defensive back is labeled a “star” safety/linebacker hybrid. We didn’t discuss that enough in yesterday’s debut of this series, but potential candidates to play ‘star’ depend on who’s sleek, strong and smart enough to man the position.

As for the two pure linebackers, the breakdown’s pretty simple. There’s some returning experience in Jake Holland and Cassanova McKinzy, dripping-with-potential Kris Frost or Justin Garrett, and junior college transfer Kenny Flowers.

All in all, there’s only eight scholarship linebackers in camp. Good news for 61-year-old Ellis Johnson, who won’t need to massage a horde of individuals as he parlays his linebacker duties with serving as the overall defensive coordinator.

Auburn Vanderbilt FootballHere’s a look at Auburn’s linebacking crew, leading into spring football scrimmages:

Who’s been playing: Jake Holland (sr.), Cassanova McKinzy (so.)

Who’s in waiting: Kris Frost (so.), Justin Garrett (jr.), JaViere Mitchell (r-fr.), Anthony Swain (so.)

Who’s out the door: Daren Bates, Jonathan Evans, Ashton Richardson

Who’s in the door: Kenny Flowers (Lilburn, Ga.), Cameron Toney (Huntsville, Ala.)

Who’s coaching ‘em up: Ellis Johnson, 31st season (16th in SEC)

Who’d he replace, where is he now: Tommy Thigpen, Tennessee

Thoughts and musings:

- Jake Holland is the only returning linebacker who was on the team for the national championship season. He’s got 16 career starts – 31 total games – over a three-year career.

- Cassanova McKinzy got his chance against Vanderbilt, and also started against Georgia when Holland was hobbled with an ankle injury. It’s not inconceivable Holland and McKinzy are your starting linebackers in the opener against Washington State – otherwise, they’ll wage war for a starting spot in the middle.

Photo by Todd Van Emst

- Kris Frost and Justin Garrett each got some reps last year when the season went awry, but they struggled with Brian VanGorder’s complex system. Ellis Johnson won’t make it easy on these guys as they learn another new playbook.

- Kenny Flowers was the No. 2-rated junior college ILB prospect by 247Sports.com out of Hutchinson CC, and will arrive in the fall. Hailing from northeast Atlanta, his dad, Kenny Flowers Sr., played running back at Clemson and three seasons for the Atlanta Falcons.

Statistically speaking:

Tiger Track Classic on Saturday, April 7, 2012 in Auburn, AL.Missy Hazeldine73 – Tackles by Jake Holland in 2012.

40 – Tackles by every other returning linebacker in 2012. That includes 12 by Cassanova McKinzy in his starting debut at Vanderbilt.

2.5 – Years Holland went in between haircuts, growing out his locks before shearing them during Auburn’s first 2012 bye week. Holland donated a hefty head of curly hair to Wigs for Kids.JakeHollandShortHair

148 – the number of days Reuben Foster was verbally committed to the Tigers. Foster, the blue-chip linebacker recruit with an AU tattoo and played his senior year at Auburn High, signed his national letter of intent with Alabama.

Good Twitter follows: Jake Holland @JTSAU5 (3,089 followers) doesn’t say much on Twitter, but he’s put out some entertaining photos with his roommates, kicker Cody Parkey and former defensive end Corey Lemonier. Kris Frost @Frost4Life (5,539) is happy to dish on basketball, and @JustinGarrett26 (1,093) has himself superimposed onto the EASports NCAA Football video game cover as his background photo.