While K.J. Britt was offering a massive chocolate bar to a mini Gus Malzahn, Auburn’s real head coach was assessing the future of his linebacking corps.
On Halloween in 2016, Britt, a then-four-star linebacker out of Oxford, Alabama, used the holiday to commit to the Tigers’ 2017 class with a inventive video with Bleacher Report. At that same time over on The Plains, Malzahn and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele were being pleasantly surprised by the linebackers already on campus.
Then-sophomore Deshaun Davis, an undersized, untried defender whom previous defensive coordinator Will Muschamp kept on the bench in 2015, was breaking out as a star at middle linebacker. Now, Davis is on his way to the NFL Draft.
Heading into the 2016 season, Malzahn was tasked with replacing an illustrious linebacking trio of Cassanova McKinzy, Kris Frost and Justin Garrett.
Three years later, Malzahn’s got déjà vu, handling another changing of the guard in the middle of his defense with Davis, Montavious Atkinson and Darrell Williams. Those three combined for 560 tackles over the past few years — but Malzahn is finding comfort in the familiarity of the situation.
“You look at two or three years ago — it feels exactly the same,” Malzahn said of replacing the three linebackers at the start of 2019 spring camp. “Of course, those three guys, it worked out really well. So, we feel the same way. I know Travis (Williams) is really excited about his bunch showing what they can do.”
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
Moving into Auburn’s second week of spring practice, Britt is taking the reins. Steele is entrusting Britt, who backed up Davis at mike linebacker his first two seasons, with the coveted chief role of Auburn’s defense.
"K.J.'s a dog, man,” said junior defensive end Big Kat Bryant. “That's always been K.J. K.J. is great… Like another version of Deshaun. He's another leader, he's behind me so I'm always hearing him, so I believe he's another Deshaun."
Bryant said that in the first week back at practice, Britt has been impressing Williams, along with other defensive coaches, with his ability to recognize and call out formations, exemplifying Britt’s football IQ.
“That linebacker — that middle linebacker is the brains of the defense, knows the different formation and the tight left, tight right — whatever situation, he knows it because he's the brains of the defense,” Bryant said.
Rising junior Chandler Wooten and rising sophomore Zakoby McClain are expected to fill in the gaps alongside Britt.
Facing off in a chess match against Auburn's offense and one of its four rotating quarterbacks, Britt can continue to flaunt his smarts in the Tigers' first scrimmage of the spring Saturday.
“He’s picking the scheme up to the point where he can make a lot of checks,” Davis said of his apprentice at middle linebacker in January. “I know this summer and this spring are going to be big for him.”
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman