Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy might have led the team in tackles last season but when spring practice concluded this past April, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had concerns. McKinzy hadn’t improved fundamentally and needed a better grasp of the defense. Johnson said McKinzy needed to be more vocal on the calls from his middle linebacker spot and overall called his spring performance “disappointing.”

After three days of fall camp, Auburn’s defense is ahead of last year’s schedule, McKinzy is looking much more comfortable and has even practiced a little bit at another position.

“It’s amazing how far we are ahead of last year at this time,” Johnson said after Sunday’s practice. “All three practices we’ve had excellent retention and carry over from the spring. (McKinzy) has been good, really good. He’s had complete control of our front. We’ve had absolutely no problems (with on-field communication).”

In addition to McKinzy’s 75 tackles last season, he also registered 2 sacks. Johnson apparently wants the junior to get to the quarterback more this season, even if it means having McKinzy line-up at defensive end in passing situations.

“I like it,” said McKinzy of putting his hand in the dirt. McKinzy was originally recruited as a defensive end.

“We’ll eventually, hopefully, get him involved in that pass rush group if he can bring something to the table,” Johnson said.

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The Tigers need a consistent pass rusher in 2014. Last year’s sack leader Dee Ford is in the NFL and his heir apparent Carl Lawson is out for a majority of the season with an ACL tear. Ford and Lawson registered 14.5 of Auburn’s 32 sacks in 2013.

Junior Kris Frost has been lining up next to McKinzy at weak-side linebacker since practice started. Last season Frost registered 59 tackles while rotating at middle linebacker with Jake Holland.

“I just feel like we both fit in with each other,” said McKinzy. “With his play style and my play style, I feel like we’re a pretty good duo.”