March 23, 2014
Linebacker Kris Frost puts the heat on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala.- As he heads toward his fourth Auburn season, Kris Frost looks the part of a big-time linebacker. He stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 240 pounds. His size, speed and athleticism have attracted the attention of NFL scouts.
But it’s been a bumpy ride for Frost, who came to Auburn as a 5-star recruit from Butler High School in Matthews, N.C., in 2011 uncertain whether he would play wide receiver or linebacker.
Frost suffered a torn labrum lifting weights and missed his true freshman season. He played sparingly in 2012 and spent last season as Jake Holland’s backup at middle linebacker, his playing time increasing as the season wore on. And now, finally, he is projected as a starter.
“It’s been a fight day in and day out since the day I got here, and being injured and everything,” Frost said. “Just knowing what you have overcome and what you can overcome, you get an idea about yourself, what you are capable of and what you can endure as far as pressure to perform on the field and off the field and in the classroom.”
The only uncertainty Frost faces after three days of spring practice is whether he will play the Mike position or the Will position. He’s worked at both. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson decided shortly after last season that he wanted to look at moving Cassanova McKinzy, the starter at Will last season, to the middle and moving Frost to Will.
Those are the positions Johnson envisioned Frost and McKinzy playing last season, when he joined Gus Malzahn’s first staff. But Holland had class commitments that caused him to miss significant practice time in the spring, and those plans changed.
“Jake was more consistent and less error-prone than they were,” Johnson said. “There were things those young ones couldn’t handle as well. Early in the game, I always wanted Jake out there. I was going to bring Cassanova along behind Jake.”
But with Holland’s class conflict during the spring, Johnson thought Frost, in the short term, was better prepared to take on the duties of the Mike linebacker, who calls the defensive signals. McKinzy blossomed at Will, leading the team in tackles, and the Tigers went on to win the Southeastern Conference championship and play in the BCS Championship Game.
Johnson says it could end up that way again, but he wants to see if switching them will work.
“I think they are prototype the other way,” Johnson said. “I am going to see what happens, at least for a couple of weeks. I thought this is the way I would have it from the beginning.”
Regardless of how that experiment works out, Frost is secure as a starter for the first time in his career. The wait has been a long one.
“It’s a relief,” Frost said. “It’s easier for me to get focused on what I need to do and what I need to get better at. I’m really enjoying having the opportunity to fly around and not have to think so much, just playing football, just being comfortable with the defense.”
By the end of last season, Frost and Holland were frequently playing an almost equal number of snaps. Auburn’s historic rebound from a 3-9 record in 2012 also marked a turning point in Frost’s career. He was fifth on the team in tackles with 59. He had six tackles for losses, forced two fumbles and recovered one.
“I felt like, progressively, I got more and more playing time,” Frost said. “I got more and more experience. I felt like by the national championship game I was at my peak. It opened a whole lot of doors for me to get better at different things.”
Auburn’s defense got better, too. And Frost says he sees good things for the defense and for the teams as a whole.
“We’re really confident,” Frost said. “Last year was more learning the coaches, learning the scheme, learning everything. Now it’s polishing things up, teaching the new guys, really getting after it and showing what Auburn defense is about. Getting back to where we were in years past, that’s our goal and we’re not going to stop until we get there.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: