Auburn football spring practice will kick off wide-open running back race

Auburn football will return to action in less than three weeks with the start of spring practices on March 1. Between now and then, SEC Country will preview each of the Tigers’ position groups heading into camp. Up next, we preview the running back situation.

Auburn running back depth chart

  • Kam Martin (Junior)
    • 74 carries for 453 yards (4.88 YPC) and 2 TD in 2017
  • Devan Barrett (Sophomore)
    • 14 carries for 79 yards (5.64 YPC) in 2017
  • Malik Miller (Sophomore)
    • 34 carries for 135 yards (3.97 YPC) and 1 TD in 2017
  • JaTarvious Whitlow (Redshirt freshman)
  • Asa Martin (Freshman)
  • C.J. Tolbert (Junior walk-on)

The departures and the arrivals

  • Departures: Kerryon Johnson (285 carries for 1,391 yards and 18 TD in 2017) and Kamryn Pettway (76 carries for 305 yards and 6 TD in 2017)
  • Arrivals: Martin, Shaun Shivers (summer enrollee) and Harold Joiner (summer enrollee)
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Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton has another challenge on his hands in 2018. (Benjamin Wolk/SEC Country)

The question

Will one running back separate himself from the rest of the pack? 

Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway combined for more than 3,500 rushing yards over the last two seasons. Now, they’re both gone to the NFL. What remains for Auburn is a group of backs with upside, but none of them have proven to be strong all-around running backs yet. That’s important, because Gus Malzahn doesn’t like to rotate his backs too much, thanks in part to the no-huddle, up-tempo style.

That could change in 2018. Auburn rarely had Johnson and Pettway healthy at the same time, and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey split carries fairly evenly among his top backs at Southern Miss and Arizona State. If there was ever a year for a Malzahn team to have a committee approach at running back, this is it.

PREVIOUS SPRING PRACTICE PREVIEWS:  QB

Spring practice will go a long way in determining who will be the go-to running back or running backs in 2018. It’s a hard race to handicap, because the experienced players aren’t well-rounded and the well-rounded players aren’t experienced. Martin is small, Miller hasn’t quite looked the same post-knee injury and Barrett — who has a lot of similarities to Johnson in his early days — doesn’t have a lot of touches to his name. It’s truly anyone’s ball game in the backfield this year.

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Auburn running back Kam Martin was the backup to Kerryon Johnson after Kamryn Pettway’s injury in 2017. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)

The star

Kam Martin

Martin returns with 773 rushing yards to his name at Auburn, which is the most of the group. He has breakaway speed and did a better job of running with power last season. However, at 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, there are always going to be concerns about durability and pass protection with the Texan. Martin would benefit the most from a committee approach, and he has time to put on more good weight this offseason. Even with his size, it’s hard to see Auburn not going to him early in 2018.

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Auburn running back commit Asa Martin participated in Peach Bowl practices. (Benjamin Wolk/SEC Country)

The wild cards

Asa Martin and JaTarvious Whitlow

Auburn’s two freshman running backs could have the most every-down, all-around upside. Martin rushed for more than 2,200 yards and 38 touchdowns as a senior and was named Alabama’s Mr. Football winner. As an early enrollee, he has the potential to wow his new coaches and teammates and possibly be the first true freshman running back to get major carries since Michael Dyer. Malzahn is high on Martin’s skill set.

Whitlow is the wildest of wild cards. He committed to Auburn as a wide receiver but moved to running back in the fall. A leg injury kept him away from action for most of his redshirt freshman year, then he picked up plenty of buzz in Peach Bowl practices. At 6-foot and 216 pounds, Whitlow has the prototypical size. His speed and vision were stunning in his high school days.

The prediction

One of the freshmen leaves spring practice as the best-looking all-around RB for 2018.

Kam Martin will most likely stay on top of any so-called depth chart through the spring. However, there’s a lot to like about Asa Martin and Whitlow heading into their first spring camps. Martin has the big-time recruiting hype, while Whitlow has advantage of rave reviews from December practices. Both will be talked about highly through the month of March, but let’s make a prediction that one of them emerges as the star at the A-Day spring game. Whoever does will have a great chance to be a freshman star in 2018.

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Auburn running back Devan Barrett played a receiver-rusher role in 2017. (Butch Dill/Getty Images)

The stat

  • 9 x 1,000. Auburn has produced a 1,000-yard running back in nine straight seasons, dating back to the 2009 campaign with Ben Tate. Since then, Michael Dyer (twice), Tre Mason (twice), Cameron Artis-Payne, Peyton Barber, Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson have all topped 1,000 yards. It’s becoming one of the surest bets in the SEC.

The quote

Auburn running back Kam Martin on his mindset heading into 2018:

“I’m blessed to be here. I know my role is going to increase in the future, I believe it. I know my time is coming, I just have to be patient. That’s all there is to it. I can’t look into other people’s success, I just have to do my very best whenever my number is called. … Just putting on some solid weight, that’s the main thing. I think that’s really the main reason why I didn’t play as much. I know it’s coming, I believe it. And my teammates believe in me. That’s what it’s all about. My time is coming.”

The post Auburn football spring practice will kick off wide-open running back race appeared first on SEC Country.

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