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Auburn spring ahead of the game despite injuries

April 15, 2014

Auburn's Cassanova McKinzy (8), Kris Frost (17) and Montravius Adams make the tackle in the BCS title game (USA Today photo)

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala. -- Ellis Johnson says Auburn is farther along this spring than last, though it hasn't been easy. 

Auburn's defensive coordinator says a dozen-or-so injuries have slowed the development of some players, including a defensive line that been so hurt that players have had to shift positions so practices could be conducted at a normal pace. 

"The frustrating part of it is we've had a lot more nagging injuries this year than we didn't last year, and we've had some guys we really felt we needed to be a little cautious with in certain drills," Johnson said after Tuesday's practice, the next-to-last stop before Saturday's A-Day Game in Jordan-Hare Stadium. 

"I don't think we've had nearly as physical, and probably as full, of a spring as we would have liked to. Some of that's a good thing. When you've got players that you trust and you believe they know what they're doing, you don't have to rep them in certain situations because you want to be smart. But we had probably about a dozen guys that either missed all of spring practice or a great portion of spring practice, and they were guys that really had a legitimate shot to jump into the two-deep battle. And that's frustrating when you don't get to work with those guys, and I know it's frustrating for them, too." 

Injuries? Let's count the ways: Cassanova McKinzy (hip, tailbone), Elijah Daniel (groin), Keymiya Harrell (knee), LaDarius Owens (ankle), Josh Holsey (knee), T.J. Davis (hamstring), JaViere Mitchell (shoulder), Robenson Therezie (hand), JaBrian Niles (undisclosed) and Tyler Nero (undisclosed). Also, Anthony Swain hasn't practiced for an undisclosed reason. 

All of that will impact A-Day. 

"We want it to be a good scrimmage, but we're going to be a little bit prudent about certain players playing too many snaps," Johnson said. "Last year, we were so deep, we were able to have a pretty good scrimmage out there even with a few guys missing. This year we've got a lot more missing." 

Johnson says there have been spring winners, such as sophomore-to-be Carl Lawson. 

"Carl's had a great spring," he said. "He made some really dynamic plays last year as a true freshman. What our objective was with him this spring was to make him a good overall, every-down player. Better at the point of attack. Better at learning some of our twists schemes and maybe some of our blitzes and other things, and adjustments. 

"He's a much more complete player than he was, and still has that ability to bring the dynamic plays on third down, too." 

But the transition of flipping Kris Frost from Mike linebacker to Will linebacker, and Cassanova McKinzy going the other way, has been slowed. McKinzy suffered an injury early in spring work and Khari Harding was moved from safety to linebacker to help provide depth. Kenny Flowers and Cameron Toney are there, too. 

Ellis said McKinzy "bruised his tailbone really bad after about three practices…I think he's going to be fine. He needed a good spring. I know he was a starter last year, but he's still a relatively young linebacker. 

"I'm really happy about Khari's progress. I don't think he's ever truly played inside linebacker. Usually in the first couple of practices you can tell whether it's going to fit or not. He's had a really good spring. I'm very optimistic about what he's going to be able to do for us this year." 

Johnson praised Montravius Adams and Gabe Wright for moving from defensive tackle to defensive fill the injury void. 

"We were out of bodies," Johnson said. "It was something we'd thought about earlier in his career, anyhow, since he's so athletic, but he's done a heck of a job out there at defensive end. So did Gabe. It's given us an idea, also, in looking toward next fall. We'll have a big package that we can play four bigger linemen in certain situations. They've gotten a lot of work at that, and I think that will be something we will utilize against some of those teams I was talking about. When you've got a 295-pound end and maybe a 300-pound end, and both of them run under a five-flat -- one of 'em runs about a 4.7 -- I think we can really help ourselves in some of those power football teams we play, and still stay with some of our base systems."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:
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