Aug 21, 2013
Here comes Cassanova McKinzy in Auburn's defense (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Cassanova McKinzy has lost weight, changed his responsibilities and says he's in a better position to help Auburn's defense this season.
He says the move from middle linebacker to the other linebacker spot will give him more freedom to make plays.
"I actually like it because I get a chance to show what I really can do besides playing the box and stopping the run," he says. "It gives me an opportunity to show everything I can do."
McKinzy played the Mike linebacker spot last year, making a name for himself with 12 tackles in his first start against Vanderbilt. That was the second-most tackles for an Auburn player in his first start since 2004. He had a team-high seven tackles against Georgia. He finished the year with 23 tackles.
He'll see more at the Will linebacker spot this season. He's gone from 254 pounds to 241 pounds to do it.
"I felt like I had to drop weight so I can run with the receivers since I wasn't playing middle linebacker anymore," he said.
McKinzy had gained weight to play in the middle last year. But new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has other plans for him in 2013.
"I had to start out from taking advice from Coach Johnson, who told me to lose weight," McKinzy said. "I was thinking that since I was playing in the SEC, I had to be a little heavy. That's really not the point. I transferred my spring over to my fall. I think I'm doing pretty well as far as understanding the concepts. I'm starting to believe in what the coaches are talking about."
McKinzy says he could leave the tough 2012 season behind, especially after a chat with Johnson.
"As soon as Coach Johnson told me I could be Will linebacker, I took it very seriously," he said. "That's something I always wanted to do. Last year, I had to play Mike and it was kind of a hard transition. I feel really comfortable at Will. I think I help the team better at Will."
The tough part about playing in the middle was "making the calls and controlling the defense."
"I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I'm just saying that you've got to make the call, make sure all the linemen are right and then you have to do your assignment. Then you have to make all the checks. This is SEC football; you have to make a lot of checks. Communicating with the D-linemen was the hardest part."
McKinzy is back to his old high school position at Woodlawn High in Birmingham.
Despite a rash of injuries that have slowed the defense, McKinzy said, "overall, I think we're doing better. Now, it's got to carry over to the game field."
McKinzy's role may be determined by how much Kris Frost plays in the middle, where Jake Holland will likely start; or on the edge, where Frost could also see time.
Either way, plenty of defensive players have seen practice time in the last week as Auburn has dealt with injuries.
"This gives them a chance to step up. We've got a lot of good ones," McKinzy said. "We just hope those guys can get in the training room and get back. Until then, we have to move on to the next person."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine