AUBURN, Ala. — Justin Garrett is on the move once again.
The former cornerback moved to Auburn's hybrid safety/linebacker "Star" position in the spring. It turned out well for both Garrett and the team, as he was named the Defensive Most Valuable Player of the Tigers' A-Day game. He was listed as the starter at "Star" heading into the fall, but after missing the first two games — and given Robenson Therezie's sterling play in his absence — Garrett has shifted positions once more.
He'll now be competing against Cassanova McKinzy for the starting weakside linebacker spot, Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said following Sunday's practice.
"He's probably had a total of about 45 plays at Will linebacker when you really total it up," Johnson said. "He made some mistakes just having not played the position, but the first five plays he's on the field, he makes three tackles and one tackle for loss. Some guys just have an instinct for making plays, so it's my job to get him schooled up and better each week and better each day."
Johnson refused to say whether Garrett or McKinzy held an edge at this point, preferring to let the week progress before he makes a decision as to who starts versus LSU. Another factor delaying Johnson is that both players are battling injuries.
"(Garrett's) foot's irritating him a little bit, and Cass's knee is irritating him a little bit," Johnson said, "so it's probably a good situation for us that they are both able to rotate with each other."
One thing that pleased Johnson was how quickly Garrett has grown accustomed to his new role.
"I think he really enjoyed playing it the other night," he said. "It could work us to a situation where we could play our 1st-and-10s and 3rd-and-10s with the same guys on the field. If you'll go back, we were going to play him and Therezie in the Dime package, and when we got him hurt, we had to start moving (Josh) Holsey up there. What it's created is a depth problem for us at the deep safety positions and the corner positions, and if Justin can keep improving, he can stay out there and play the Dime linebacker as a Will linebacker. That will be a plus for us, too."
Middle linebacker still an ongoing battle
Much like the weakside clash between Garrett and McKinzy, Johnson said the middle linebacker position is still a fight every week between starter Jake Holland and top backup Kris Frost.
"Every time Kris makes a real move to take over, he has an issue like the ejection or something of that nature," Johnson said. "Not only did he miss a half of football, I could not rep him a lot in practice because I had to have somebody else ready to go. I had to give (Anthony) Swain a lot of those practice reps. So he didn't make as much progress this week as he should've. He had some mistakes. I'm ready for a situation where our two deep and our rotation in that spot settles down."
Holland, who has started all three games, made Johnson proud with his performance on Saturday, with the linebackers short-handed during the first half due to Frost's suspension for targeting the week prior.
"When we had some good drives and I knew Jake wasn't too fatigued, I just left him in there," Johnson said. "But (Holland) needed a blow. A lot of his issues were just fatigue, so it was good to get Kris back for that reason. But Jake played as well as Kris did overall, had more tackles, more production and really fit the run pretty good."
Davis' status uncertain for Saturday
Starting corner Chris Davis missed the victory against Mississippi State to heal from a foot injury suffered versus Arkansas State in Week 2. Johnson wasn't sure whether the senior would be available to play this weekend.
"I hope so," he said. "I don't have any knowledge one way or the other. It irritated him a little bit the other night, and we felt more safe about not pressing the issue. It could've hurt worse, so we'll have to see how he feels this week."