Cassanova McKinzy helped Auburn wrap up Tennessee last season
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Cassanova McKinzy is a busy guy this Auburn fall camp. He's continued his move from weak-side linebacker to middle linebacker to help set Auburn's defense, and, if that wasn't enough, he's moonlighting as the rush end on obvious passing downs.
No problem, McKinzy says.
"I like it."
McKinzy, Auburn's leading tackler last season, also likes the overall feel of the defense.
"We’re a lot more aggressive than we were last year," McKinzy said after Sunday's practice, the third of the preseason. "Today was the first day in pads and I was real shocked. We were all over the field running everywhere. I feel like we were more aggressive and very smart on the back end from linebacker and DB. We’re very solid upfront. I feel like it’s going to be a whole different year by these first couple of practices."
McKinzy and fellow linebacker Kris Frost have flipped assignments since last year. Frost has moved to the weak side in the spring. McKinzy moved to the middle, though he was slowed in the spring by an injury to his tailbone.
And now he's lining up as outside rusher, too?
"In high school, I was a D-end, recruited as a D-end, so it’s just a matter of keep repping it out and trying to get back to it," McKinzy said. "I feel like if I keep on working at it, I can get it all back."
So does defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who is willing to send McKinzy over to defensive line coach Rodney Garner for some time at end. Johnson said McKinzy has got the skills when it comes to pass rushing.
"We’ll eventually, hopefully, get him involved in that pass rush group if he can bring something to the table," Johnson said.
But McKinzy's No. 1 responsibility is to play in the middle and make defensive calls.
"I’m being more vocal and everything is coming more natural," McKinzy said. "In the offseason, I started calling just random linebacker meetings, just get in and watch film on our own. The past couple of practices I’ve been more vocal, trying to play with more emotion…just being the eyes of Coach Johnson when he’s not around.
"I like being in control of the defense. I like making calls and changing calls and being hands-on with the defensive line. I feel like it was a pretty good move. Kris is more the cover guy and I like the physical prospect of people running the ball. I feel like it was a great move."
McKinzy said he and Frost should be fine together because "I feel like we’re a good linebacker duo because we’ve got each other’s back. If he messes up, I’ve got his back. If I mess up, he’s got my back. I just feel like we both fit in with each other. With his play style and my play style, I feel like we’re a pretty good duo."
They could be among the fastest linebacker combinations around.
"I'd say it'll be hard for a scrambling quarterback to get outside the box," McKinzy said. "Both of us are really physical. I think we're going to bring a much more physical presence with both of us on the field at the same time."
McKinzy led Auburn with 75 tackles last season.
"My personal goals, I guess, it to repeat try to be the leading tackler, and to do all the things I didn't do last year," McKinzy said. "A lot of people thought last year was the breakout year for me, but I feel like it was a real small measure. I hold myself to very high expectations and my teammates and my coaches do, too."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine