Auburn linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost have sat with coach Gene Chizik, getting an education on how things work in college football. Most young players don’t just walk into a program and play, even when talent isn’t an issue. At linebacker — a thinking man’s position — there is a learning curve.
It doesn’t take much for frustration to build.
“I’ve explained to them before this week — and actually in weeks past — that they’ve got to continue to work to improve,” Chizik said. “Trust is the main issue. We know they’re talented. We know they can make plays when they get out on the field. They’ve got to be able to line up right, they’ve got to be able to run the right pressures, got to be in the right pass coverages.”
The responsibility on Auburn linebackers is immense. This week, Chizik said he believes the youngsters are ready for it.
Serving different purposes, McKinzy — a true freshman — and Frost — a redshirt freshman — will get their chance Saturday when Auburn travels to Vanderbilt.
The Commodores run the football frequently and well. Against big, physical offenses, linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen said McKinzy and Frost give Auburn’s defense good matchups.
“You’ll see a bigger role,” Thigpen said. “We’re making a commitment to somehow get those guys on the football field.”
Thigpen said McKinzy hasn’t quite earned the starter spot over junior Jake Holland, but “that kid has earned a chance to play for us at Auburn.”
At weakside linebacker, Thigpen said Frost will play 15 to 20 snaps Saturday — just enough to give Auburn leading tackler Daren Bates more rest than he’s gotten this season.
“He’s on the field every single play,” Thigpen said of Bates. “If we keep him out there, at some point he’s going to get hurt. So we need to take some of those reps off of him. He don’t need to be playing 85, 90 plays in a game.”
Thigpen made it clear that McKinzy and Frost are not being handed more playing time out of necessity. Both have earned it, he said.
In the past two weeks, Thigpen has seen McKinzy and Frost turn a corner.
Thigpen said he’ll arrive at the athletics complex in the morning, and they’ll already be in the film room. He’ll enter his office, and they’ll be inside writing plays on the whiteboard.
“Their studying has gone up,” Thigpen said. “Their production on the practice field has gone up. They’ve taken a lot of interest as far as coming in and studying tape and getting their alignments down, and it’s been showing up on the field.
“They’ve been growing up, and it’s been fun to watch them.”
It’s news fans have been waiting to hear for a long time.
As Auburn’s linebackers have routinely struggled this season — particularly in the middle — more and more have grown disgruntled, wondering where the Tigers highly recruited underclassmen are at when they’re not on the field.
Frost said he’s been in the film room.
“The more we get in the film room outside of practice and meetings, the better we'll be,” Frost said. “The more time you put in, the more you’ll get out of it. Just like coach says, you always get what you deserve and what you earn. We’re just putting in all the time we can. We feel like we’re getting better, both of us. We talked all the time, and we’re both in the film room at the same time, as well as all the other linebackers.”
Frost said he’s struggled adjusting to the speed of the college game. It’s been an ongoing battle since spring practice. Even in August camp, Frost admitted he wasn’t quite ready to play.
Now, he feels comfortable.
“Just adapting the speed of college — that’s what I feel like I’m doing better with now,” Frost said. “I’m feeling really confident, and so are the rest of the guys. The more we work, the more we work outside of practice, getting in the film room, that’s the better we’ll be.
“All I’m really focused on is getting better, and if that opportunity comes, it comes. That’s how Cassanova was. All he was worried about was getting better every day — getting in the film room. That’s the same thing with me.”
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