Jake Holland (Yes. Jake. Shut up. I'll get to why he's a key loss. And he is.)
LB: Kris Frost, Cassanova McKinzy, Kenny Flowers, JaViere Mitchell, Cameron Toney, Anthony Swain
STAR: Robenson Therezie, Justin Garrett, Mackenro Alexander
LB: Tre' Williams, De'Shaun Davis
STAR: Nick Ruffin
Causes for optimism:
LB: Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy began to come on strong, last season. Especially Cass. These two have swapped positions, so Cass is now the MLB. This is probably due to his better understanding of the defensive alignments, etc, but that's just speculation on my part. JaViere Mitchell looked good before being hampered by some injuries. Anthony Swain was a good reserve. Tre' Williams is a beast of a freshman. Kenny Flowers was the MVP of A-Day. For once we have options and depth at the LB slot. It's been a while, and it feels good.
STAR: Therezie came out of nowhere last year after Justin Garrett was ruled out due to injuries. There were message boards posts throughout the 2012 season questioning why Therezie was hardly playing at all. I have no answers on why he didn't see the field much in 2012, but 2013 was a breakout year. He equaled Auburn's 2012 interception total in the first game. Justin Garrett was the star of the 2013 spring practice and early reports are that he has returned to that form this fall. If he is healthy, this will be a very deep position for Auburn. There is only one of them on the field at any given time, so there is some good depth, there.
Causes for concern:
LB: I know Jake Holland was not the greatest playmaker. I know there were complaints about him from Auburn fans all the time. Do you want to know why he still started? Because he knew the defense. The MLB is the QB of the defense, and Jake knew how to get everyone aligned. We're going to miss that. I believe this is why Frost never jumped Jake in the depth chart and why Cassanova is now the MLB instead of Frost. I hope Cassanova has it down. We're going to need someone to properly direct the defense. If things are disjointed, we're going to be wishing we had Jake back.
STAR: We have some depth here, but we're also thin, as well. Garrett has been injury prone the past few years, so losing him would put us in a weakened position. Mackenro Alexander did get some work last season in relief of Therezie, but for the most part Therezie was on the field a whole lot and we can't afford to lose both he and Garrett unless Alexander is ready to step up or Nick Ruffin is just a phenom.
UPDATED: Well, it looks like some rumors may have a speck of truth to them regarding Therezie. I don't know the extent, but reportedly he doesn't have many practice reps and according to today's press conference Ellis Johnson says he does not expect Therezie to play early this season. Given rumors of a 2nd offense in the drug/alcohol realm (though I stress these are rumors and I have absolutely zero knowledge of the actual situation), that sounds like "early in the season" may mean "first six games." Aaaaaand, that is not good. Now depth at the Star is definitely a concern and we really need Justin Garrett to stay healthy.
Similar to yesterday, I think there will be some growing pains as Cassanova steps into the role of being the man to direct the defense. They may be very short struggles and be nothing more than first-game jitters, though. Cassanova was the leading tackler on Auburn's defense last season, with Frost close behind him and Therezie just one place behind Frost. That's a lot of production. Part of this is because of the DL's struggle against the run, but it's also just the nature of the beast. I do think these two units have a chance to shine for us this year by the end of the season. They could even be great right from the start. It's really nice to be able to say that about the linebackers, again.
Next up: Linebackers