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Auburn Football: Linebacker Position Changes Will Pay off in a Big Way

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Auburn Football: Linebacker Position Changes Will Pay off in a Big Way
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Auburn LB Kris Frost (right)

During its SEC Championship run of 2013, Auburn's defense was more punch line than power.

In the early stages of the 2014 BCS National Championship Game against Florida State, however, the Tigers' "D" packed a pretty mean punch.

Had it not been for the seven-play, 80-yard drive in the closing seconds that resulted in the game-winning touchdown for the Seminoles, the game plan put together by Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson would have been one of the dominant storylines from the game.

Part of the reason for that success in Pasadena, Calif., was "Mike" linebacker Kris Frost. 

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Auburn LB Kris Frost

The 6'2", 234-pounder from Matthews, N.C., had seven tackles in the 34-31 loss to Florida State and generally made life difficult for Seminole running backs Devonta Freeman, James Wilder, Jr. and Karlos Williams, as well as quarterback Jameis Winston.

This after battling then-senior Jake Holland for playing time throughout the season.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Auburn LB Kris Frost

In 2014, the script is flipped—quite literally.

According to Joel A. Erickson of AL.com, Frost and returning starter Cassanova McKinzy will flip positions this spring, with Frost moving to "Will" linebacker and McKinzy—Auburn's leading tackler from a year ago (75)moving to the middle.

It's a move that pleases Frost.

"It’s a relief," Frost told Erickson. "It’s easy for me to get focused on what I need to do and all my priorities and knowing what I need to get better at."

It's a relief for Frost, the coaching staff and Auburn fans because now he's back at a position that truly suits his skills.

Auburn Returning LBs Stats from 2013
Player Tackles TFLs Sacks INTs Forced Fumbles
Kris Frost 59 6 0 0 2
Cassanova McKinzy 75 8 2 1 0

CFBStats.com

Frost is big, has fantastic lateral movement, is good in coverage and quick to the football, which makes him more dangerous in space than McKinzy. Now he's going to have that space to work with on top of a foundation of success late last season that he can build off of.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Auburn LB Cassanova McKinzy

For McKinzy, it's a better place as well. Johnson felt comfortable with Holland making the calls for the defense last season, but that'll be McKinzy's job now that he's a veteran with a full season starting in Johnson's defense.

Physically, he's better-suited to play inside. The 6'3", 249-pounder plays more north-south. While he's decent in coverage, he's certainly not as capable as Frost in space.

The position changes are going to pay off in a big way for the 2014 Tigers.

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Linebacker was a sore spot for the Tigers over the last few years, but McKinzy and Frost came on strong down the stretch and now are in more comfortable spots in Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme. Tackling was an issue last season not only for the linebackers, but for Auburn's defense as a whole.

Now that Frost and McKinzy have comfort in the scheme and are happy with their new roles, focusing on the fundamentals will be the top priority this spring.

For Auburn, it's a sign that fixing the defense won't take a massive overhaul.

All it needs is a little fine-tuning.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.


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