Entering last season, there were many unknowns on the Auburn football roster. Early in fall camp, we weren’t sure who would play quarterback and when Nick Marshall won the job, we had no idea how he would do. The offensive line was quite young, and though the defense returned eight starters, the unit allowed an average 28.3 points per game and 421 total yards the previous season. The biggest question mark was the Auburn Tigers linebackers.
And, once the season started, it took time to answer the questions many posed about the linebacking corps. Cassanova McKinzy, Kris Frost, Anthony Swain and Jake Holland rotated through the two primary linebacker positions, but none stood out early in the season. McKinzy looked great against LSU, but the rest of the squad struggled and Auburn fell to the Bayou Bengals. Two weeks later, McKinzy was nowhere to be found in the next game against Ole Miss, and such inconsistency plagued the unit as a whole.
Against Texas A&M, the unit struggled to get pressure on Johnny Football, or inhibit the Aggie receivers. But, as they would do often in 2013, the linebackers were good enough for the Tigers to win. And, from that point, they got better each week.
When all was said and done, McKinzy was the team’s leader with 75 tackles. He and Frost shared the team lead with six tackles for a loss. Both were great in the BCS National Championship Game against Florida State, and both return this season.
|MLB||8||Cassanova McKinzy||6-3, 249||Junior||Birmingham, AL|
|43||Anthony Swain||6-2, 249||Junior||Gasden, AL|
|30||Tre' Williams||6-2, 225||Freshman||Mobile, AL|
|WLB||17||Kris Frost||6-2, 234||Junior||Matthwes, NC|
|33||Kenny Flowers||6-1, 230||Junior||Lilburn, GA|
|47||Cameron Toney||6-1, 243||Redshirt Freshman||Huntsville, AL|
(Note: since Ellis Johnson’s defense is a 4-2-5, we will discuss the linebacker-safety hybrid Star position with the defensive backs later in this series).
Frost, who started one game in 2013 and finished the season with 59 tackles, will be the weak side linebacker for the Tigers this season, and McKinzy will start in the middle. However, the pair is flexible and each can play the other’s position. In fact, McKinzy is very comfortable on the weak side because he started there last year. He can even play defensive end, according to Charles Goldberg of auburntigers.com.
When that happens, expect Swain, Kenny Flowers, Cameron Toney or true freshman Tre Williams to step in. Swain played decently well as a backup last season, and Flowers was named the defensive MVP in the spring game. Williams, the most exciting prospect of the bunch, was a five-star prospect in the most recent class.
Looking ahead to the 2014 season, which kicks off in less than one month, the Auburn Tigers linebackers are in a much better place than they were a season ago. There is talent on the roster, and considerably more depth. There are fewer questions. This group should be better than simply “good enough,” it may be the best unit on the Auburn defense.