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Position Review: Auburn’s Linebackers

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn linebacker Tre Williams tackles Idaho wide receiver Callen Hightower, Nov. 21, 2015 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. (Michael Niziolek | Ledger-Enquirer.com)
Auburn linebacker Tre Williams tackles Idaho wide receiver Callen Hightower, Nov. 21, 2015 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. (Michael Niziolek | Ledger-Enquirer.com) Michael Niziolek | Ledger-Enquirer.com

Note - Auburn starts preparing for the Birmingham Bowl next week, but with the regular season in the books it’s not too early to take a position-by-position look at how the Tigers performed in 2015 and what the future holds.

Grading Out: Former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp’s assessment of the team’s linebackers two-thirds of the way through the season wasn’t good. 

“Very average,” Muschamp said. “We need to play better and we need to get more production. That’s the bottom line. We got to get off blocks. You got to disengage a guy and make a tackle.”

It wasn’t quite as bleak going into the final week of the season.

Muschamp saw steady improvement from Justin Garrett at middle linebacker and Cassanova McKinzy on the outside. McKinzy was a utility player of sorts going back to the inside on the team’s goal line and short yardage situations.

McKinzy was Auburn’s only consistent pass rusher this season leading the team with five sacks and 20 quarterback hits. He was second on the team with 74 tackles (37 solo) behind fellow linebacker Kris Frost.

Curtain Call: The bulk of Auburn’s experience at the position is graduating.  McKinzy, Frost and Garrett all celebrated senior day against Alabama and appeared in more than 40 games in a Tigers’ uniform. McKinzy was the second most experienced defender on the team behind Jonathan Jones.

The team will also miss the group’s leadership in the locker room. Frost became a spokesperson of sorts for the defense late in the season and worked tirelessly to improve. Auburn’s defense will need players to fill that void next season when it has to replace half of its starting lineup.

Stockwatch: Tre’ Williams made an impression on the coaching staff late in the season with his physicality and ability to make plays all over the field. The true sophomore registered seven solo tackles in each of Auburn’s final two games. He finished the season with 51 tackles and four for a loss.

Jeffery Holland was the only one of Auburn’s highly rated linebacker from the Class of 2015 to register meaningful playing time. Fellow freshman Darrell Williams played in nine games, but saw very snaps at linebacker. Richard McBryde did not play this season.

Class of 2016 Commits: Tre Threat (Spanish Fort);

Outlook: The future of the defense is tied to what direction Auburn goes with its defensive coordinator and what kind of scheme that new assistant wants to run. The lack of depth at linebacker could be a factor in those decisions. Three of the most experienced graduating seniors all happen to play linebacker. Tre’ Williams has an inside track at a starting spot, but the position is pretty much wide open. The Tigers will need to develop the linebackers they brought in from the Class of 2015 and see if they can get an impact player in recruiting. Tre Threat is the only linebacker verbally committed to the school as of the first week of December, but he isn’t likely to be the final name on Auburn’s list at the position.

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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