Position Previews: Linebacker
This is the second defensive feature of my 2012 Position Previews, if you missed the last one which covered the defensive line, click here.
Here’s what we know about the linebacker position, two of the three spots likely won’t change before the season. Jake Holland will anchor the inside spot, especially after his biggest competitor Jawara White had to retire in the Spring due to injuries. The converted safety Daren Bates will keep his position on the weak side.
The real position of question is the strong side linebacker position, which is a competition between veteran Jonathan Evans, and redshirt freshman Kris Frost. Evans may hold an advantage over Frost in terms of experience, but there is no question that Frost is an incredible athlete, and if he breaks through in the fall camp and proves he knows the defence inside and out, I believe he’ll be given the starting spot. Frost has a lot of upside, and will only get better with experience. VanGorder believes Frost has a lot of work to do with the knowledge side of the game, but that should soon catch up with him. This is a big fall camp for Frost, and I don’t think the coaches will hesitate going with the with the safer option in Evans.
With more and more young talent coming in at the middle linebacker position (McKinzy, Foster), Holland should feel more than motivated to meet his potential this year. He’s been the fans punching bag the last few years, but I believe he is more than capable enough of taking the league by storm.
Daren Bates will be the leader on defence this season, he has started every year of his Auburn career and that experience should help him breakthrough this time round. He isn’t the biggest player, and he’ll likely start the season around 215, but he plays hard and really showed improvement last season. I expect Bates to have a good 2012.
In terms of backups, McKinzy should see some playing time this fall. He is physically gifted to dominate the middle linebacker position, but may need a year or two to catch up to some others. Justin Garrett is pushing Bates at the weak side, and impressed Thigpen in the Spring.
What to expect
The strong side linebacker position is really unclear right now, but in terms of production, the whole unit has to improve as a whole, no matter who is on the field. The defensive performances – as a whole – were poor last season, and there was insignificant improvement. I hope Thigpen can get the unit to improve a fair bit this season. Kris Frost has a chance to break through this year, and it would certainly be nice to be able to rave about a redshirt freshman at linebacker. He is athletically gifted, we know that for sure. But can he put it all together?