AUBURN, Ala. — Ellis Johnson didn’t hold back.
Cassanova McKinzy hasn’t lived up to Johnson’s expectations since spring practice, and a nagging hip injury is to blame.
“Frankly, Cass hasn't had a very good spring,” Auburn’s defensive coordinator said Tuesday.
Around the third practice, McKinzy “bruised his tailbone really bad.” It affected him the next “6-7 practices,” Johnson said. In some, McKinzy didn’t practice at all. In others, he wasn’t able to go full-speed. Things have finally started to turn around in the last two sessions, and Johnson said the junior linebacker should be “fine” going forward.
Still, the injury was the last thing McKinzy needed as he attempted to transition from weakside to middle linebacker.
“It was a big hampering. It set him back quite a bit,” Johnson said. “The first three practices, he really moved into it really easily. When I first got here, I thought he was a Mike linebacker but he wouldn't talk. He didn't communicate well at the line of scrimmage and things of that nature.”
Because Kris Frost picked up on the defensive calls quicker — and then-senior Jake Holland had more experience — Johnson elected to put McKinzy at the weakside last season. He flourished there, recording a team-high 75 tackles. Once the spring began, however, Johnson put his plan into action of flipping Frost to the outside and shifting McKinzy inside.
McKinzy hasn’t been available to speak with reporters this spring, but his fellow projected starter said he’s coming along well.
“He’s doing good with the checks and everything,” Frost said. “He’s given me feedback at Will linebacker and I’m giving him feedback on middle linebacker. It’s interchangeable. It wasn’t that much of a jump. We’re just making sure we know everything we’re doing. He’s doing great, though.”
One positive aspect of his scheme, Johnson said, is that the “there’s not a lot of difference” between the Mike and Will spots.
On the other hand, meaningful reps McKinzy could have had this spring can’t be made up now.
“His transition to that position was really effortless. It was easy,” Johnson said. “I just wish he hadn't missed so much time, because I think fundamentally he hasn't improved. And he's still a relatively inexperienced linebacker who would have gotten a lot better with spring.”