We've already done the defensive tackles and ends, so now we're moving back to the linebackers. This also somewhat incorporates the "Buck" position, but I dealt with that more in the defensive ends preview.
Anthony Swain (transfer), Robenson Therezie
Cassanova McKinzy, Kris Frost, Justin Garrett, Kenny Flowers, Tre Williams, JaViere Mitchell, Cameron Toney
Deshaun Davis (Redshirt Freshman), Jeff Holland, Richard McBryde, Darrell Williams
Reasons for Optimism:
I'm going to say something you haven't heard an Auburn fan say in a few years... we have DEPTH at LINEBACKER.
I'll give you a second to come to grips with that mind-blowing thought.
You back? Ok, let's talk about it.
The only real linebacker loss from last season's team is Anthony Swain, who transferred out. Robenson Therezie was more of a nickel DB than a linebacker. So, we return the two key starting linebackers from last season and the person who played Star as a traditional LB (Justin Garret). Then there's Tre Williams who performed well as a true freshman, Kenny Flowers who has a good bit of experience, and JaViere Mitchell who has looked pretty good at times.
The newcomers just add even more. Deshaun Davis redshirted last season and has potential to be a star. We know Jeff Holland is a stud, though he may need a lot of polishing before he's really ready, and McBryde and Williams are no slouches themselves.
It pains me a bit to say it because I have to acknowledge that there was something good at Alabama, but we also have an excellent linebacker coach in Lance Thompson who can get this group ready.
I know I'm probably building up the hype for this defense way too much in my own mind, but it's hard not to get excited about two good seniors, a lot of talented youngsters, a great defensive scheme, and play makers in front of and behind them on the defense. The linebackers are just one of the favorites to me because of the depth, there.
Oh, and then there's the Buck. There will be times that Carl Lawson, Raashad Kennion, or another defensive end is standing up as a linebacker. Yeah, that's going to be fun. A lot of fun.
Causes for Concern:
There's really not a terrible amount of great playing time behind those seniors. This is where losing Swain hurts. Garrett has shown flashes of brilliance in practice and scrimmages, but he's been bitten by the injury bug so much that you have to worry that will come up, again. Then there's the penalties from last season. Has Will Muschamp & Company gotten those out of these players? You could argue they cost us the Outback Bowl last year.
Will the backups be ready to handle the load? Frost and McKinzy won't be on the field every play. Auburn has played most of the last two seasons in what is essentially a permanent nickel defense with the Star position, so we're going to see three or four linebackers on the field for the first time in a while. How quickly will the defense adjust? Just who will that third linebacker be? My money is on Justin Garrett if he's healthy, though don't count out Tre Williams to take a senior's spot somewhere in that group.
There will be growing pains. There will be times we shake our heads and wonder what's going on. We'll have to struggle through some of the newcomers learning the ropes. I think overall the linebackers will be a solid part of the defense by the year's end, though. Even if it didn't look that way at the season's end, they were pretty good at stopping the run for most of last season. I think that continues into this season with the new scheme.
Frost and McKinzy will have good years. Both will ended up getting drafted. I think Garrett stays healthy and becomes the player we were all hoping for after his 2013 A-Day performance. Jeff Holland won't see the field too much because he's just not there yet, mentally (and that's a pure 100% guess on my part, and I'm referring only to being locked into the system as a whole).
We'll be happy with our linebacker corps as a whole for the first time in a long time, though. Because the depth, talent, and coaching is there for them to do something special.