In addition to Artis-Payne, Auburn must also replace quarterback Nick Marshall and speed back Corey Grant following the Outback Bowl. A group that combined for 2,596 of Auburn’s 3,102 rushing yards this year and 25 of the 30 touchdowns, the trio leaves a huge hole, but one the Tigers have the talent to fill.
That starts during bowl practices with freshmen Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber getting a lot of the work along with a newcomer to the group. The number one junior college running back in the country, five-star Jovon Robinson is back practicing with the Tigers after a nearly two-year hiatus from the Plains.
Already enrolled and working out with the team in preseason practices in 2012, Robinson was declared ineligible by the NCAA and instead wound up at Georgia Military College. Two years later he’s one of the top backs in the land at the 6-0, 235-pounder didn’t take long to impress his offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. Scoring a touchdown in Tuesday’s practice, Lashlee said he’s seen some good things already from Robinson and the fact that he’s in for bowl practices can’t hurt his development for next fall.
“It’s huge,” Lashlee said. “The guys that come in mid-year is big for us because they get the whole spring. He’s going to get an extra eight practices or so and I think that’s good. It gets him acclimated and gets him around our guys more than anything. We know and think that he’s got a lot of upside. It’s huge. He gets a head start learning the terminology and learning the system and actually going and doing it before we get to March.”
While Auburn’s running game was still one of the best in the country in 2014, there is no question that the Tigers struggled at times in short yardage and red zone situations without big fullback Jay Prosch to run behind. Searching all seasons for an answer, Auburn never truly found the right combination for the running game out of the tight end/H-Back with C.J. Uzomah, Brandon Fulse and Braden Smith all used at different times.
Kamryn Pettway is making some early noise in bowl practices
With four-star and the nation’s No. 1 fullback Chandler Cox already on board with the Tigers and enrolling for classes in January, the Tigers will get a look at one of the players that may fit the role next season. Until then Lashlee and company are seeing what redshirt freshman running back Kamryn Pettway can do.
A physical back from Prattville, Pettway is a 6-0, 235-pounder with good feet and hands, a combination that makes him a natural for the fullback/H-Back spot. Even as the feature back for the Lions he was never afraid to get down and dirty blocking for his teammates. That’s something he has shown early in bowl practices and Lashlee said it has been an encouraging thing to see from the young back.
“I tell you, after only a couple of days, Kamryn Pettway is someone we are kind of experimenting a little bit playing some H-Back,” Lashlee said. “He can still be a big back. I have really been impressed by the way he’s transitioned two days in. What that means I don’t know. He’s still learning what to do, but he’s done a really good job. He’s real physical. I think he really enjoys it and he’s been pretty impressive just initially his first two days. Hopefully he’ll keep progressing.”