Auburn, Ala.--Without Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne to lean on heading into the season Coach Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers may use a different approach at the running back position when the offense takes the field this fall.
Normally wanting to find one player to lean on, Malzahn said with the depth and talent they’ve got right now things could be a little different this year with more than one back shouldering the load.
“The good thing is we have three guys we feel like on Saturday we can put out there, and they can run the offense,” Malzahn said of Roc Thomas, Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson. “Kerryon (freshman Kerryon Johnson) is a guy that we'll bring along as the season goes on.
“We may do it by committee,” he added. “We'll just see how the thing starts out first game.”
Although they’ve had limited time on the field, Thomas and Barber are the two most experienced players in the offense and that is a plus for both heading into the opener. Throughout the preseason the two have been mentioned as the most steady and Malzahn said that continues to be the case.
“Roc and Peyton are the two guys who have had the most experience,” Malzahn said. “Roc is in his second year, Peyton in his third year and both those guys have a very good feel.”
Coming in for spring practice, Robinson is the most physical of the group at 230 pounds. Struggling early in camp to get caught up on the technical side of the offense, the junior college transfer has come on strong and Malzahn said he’s a guy they are looking forward to watching.
“Jovon is a big, strong guy,” Malzahn said of Robinson. “He is still kind of learning the offense, but he is getting better each day.”
The fourth player in the mix is Johnson. Even though he missed part of preseason camp with a minor injury it hasn’t stopped the talented newcomer from impressing his coaches and teammates. That’s something that Malzahn said has him ready to play at least a partial role in Auburn’s offense this season.
“Running backs is actually a position, and not just in our offense, they're used to running the football,” Malzahn said. “You make it simple for them and let them do their thing. The challenge is the protections, the check-downs and everything that goes with it.
“That's the hard part because there are a lot of moving parts with protections and calls and 'what ifs.' For a young guy, from a coach's standpoint, you try to protect them as much as you can until they start feeling more comfortable as the season goes on.”
Malzahn and the Tigers will continue working on Louisville with practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before having a short walk-through on the Auburn campus Friday. The team will travel to Atlanta on Friday afternoon to get ready for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. CDT kickoff versus Louisville in the Georgia Dome.