Auburn football: All-SEC linebacker K.J. Britt to undergo surgery, out indefinitely
AUBURN — All-SEC linebacker K.J. Britt will undergo surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right thumb on Friday.
Coach Gus Malzahn confirmed the news, reported earlier Thursday, during his evening appearance on the Tiger Talk radio show. It is unclear exactly how long the senior captain will be sidelined, Malzahn did say it will be "for a while."
"Obviously, that's a tough blow," the coach continued. "Not just his play on the field, but you know, being our team leader. But we have guys that are ready to step up. Anytime you lose a guy like that, it's got to be all hands on deck stepping up."
Britt has been the heart and soul at the middle of Auburn's defense the past two seasons. He totaled 69 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 2 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble in his first year as a starter in 2019 and was off to a fast start with a team-leading 23 tackles through two games in 2020.
The senior was in and out of the lineup during last Saturday's loss at Georgia, though, as he fought through the hand injury and a shoulder that he said kept going numb on him, but believed he would be fine.
"Man, that's a dog," sophomore linebacker Owen Pappoe said Tuesday. "I've got a lot of respect for K.J. – just him fighting through the pain the whole entire game. Most guys, they would have just came off with something small, just to get out of there. But K.J. has a lot of heart, and he played through it, man. He's going to get better."
The Tigers, who are already without senior Chandler Wooten after he opted out of playing this season, will need to lean much more heavily on Pappoe and junior Zakoby McClain for as long as Britt can't go. They typically rotate at the outside linebacker spot in Kevin Steele's defense, but train to play both – it seems likely that one will shift inside to Britt's spot.
"We think they're two of the best linebackers in the entire league," Malzahn said.
The first linebackers listed on the depth chart behind that trio are four-star true freshmen Wesley Steiner (middle) and Cam Riley (outside). Steiner is the only one of the two who has appeared in a game so far this season. Neither has recorded any statistics.
"We're going to really rely on those guys as the season goes on," Malzahn said. "The good thing is, Zakoby and Owen, we have those guys. They're veteran guys. They've played in a lot of big games, they've played extremely well."
Auburn (1-1) returns to action Saturday (3 p.m., ESPN) against visiting Arkansas (1-1).
This story has been updated.
Josh Vitale is the Auburn beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoshVitale. To reach him by email, click here. If you enjoy Josh's coverage, consider a digital subscription that will give you access to all of it.