BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
“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.”