Auburn's Burning Questions - No. 8: Who will be the biggest surprise?
Several questions abound as the Auburn Tigers begin their quest to become the first team to repeat as SEC Champions since 1998. Leading up to the first day of fall practice on Aug. 1, Saturday Down South will examine the 10 burning questions the Tigers face in their quest to win back-to-back SEC Championships.
Auburn’s burning questions:
- No. 10: How reliable will the kicking game?
- No. 9: How will Tigers handle success/off-the-field issues?
- No. 8: Who will be the biggest surprise?
There are a lot of returning pieces from Auburn’s 2013 national championship run. Because of the Tigers numerous starters coming back as well as players with much game experience, Auburn is seen as a Top 10, maybe even a Top 5 team when the preseason polls come out in early August. One unit that isn’t getting a lot of publicity but returns productive players that could make a drastic improvement in 2014 is the linebacking corps.
Last year’s leading tackler, junior Cassanova McKinzy, returns. Kris Frost, another junior, is also back. Frost started only one game last year yet was fifth on the team in tackles. Kenny Flowers, with a year under his belt after transferring in from junior college, showed a lot of promise in this year’s A-Day game winning the defensive MVP.
We’ll lump the hybrid star position, which is half linebacker and half safety, into the group as well. Robenson Therezie, last year’s defensive MVP, returns to the star position. Justin Garrett, who lost the job to Therezie last year, is back after missing most of the season with a foot injury.
Prior to McKinzy’s team-leading 75 tackles in 2013, the last time an underclassman led the Tigers in tackles was 2008 by safety Zac Etheridge. McKinzy will move from weak side linebacker to Mike linebacker this season. Frost might make the biggest impact in 2014. He backed up middle linebacker Jake Holland last year and still registered 59 tackles. With McKinzy is the middle, Frost will hold down the weak side. Being tabbed a starter means increased productivity from Frost. Bringing back two players that notched 134 tackles isn’t a bad thing.
Flowers didn’t live up to expectations in first year at Auburn after transferring in from Hutchinson (Kansas) CC. Yet during the A-Day game perhaps we saw the type of player Flowers can be; the one that registered 95 tackles at Hutchinson. He recorded seven tackles back in the April game which was three more than he had all of last season. Flowers will back up McKinzy in the middle but it will be tough for defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson to keep him off the field if he continues his good play in fall camp.
Therezie was the star of the defense last year. He lead the team in interceptions while registering 56 tackles, one less than Frost for sixth on the team. His is a playmaker. Having a healthy Garrett behind him will only help. The 2013 A-Day game MVP battled foot injuries last year and wound up redshirting. Garrett physical nature and liking contact means a tackling presence alongside McKinzy and Frost.
Flying under the radar might be a good thing for the linebacking corps. They just might surprise some people.