Auburn, Ala.--With the Tigers short on tailback types this spring a pair of fullbacks, sophomores Kamryn Pettway and Chandler Cox, are getting a look at the position in practice and there is a possibility that former running back Rudy Ford could get carries at the position even though he is one of Auburn's most established defensive players.
Coach Gus Malzahn said after Auburn’s second spring practice on Thursday evening that Ford at running back isn’t something the Tigers will definitely try, but it is under consideration after the defensive back is cleared to practice again. Ford was held out of the first two practices due to an illness, but could be back on the field on Saturday.
Ford opened the 2015 season as a starting safety and finished it as the starter at nickel. One thing that stood out at both positions was his ability to make tackles. He finished the season with a team-high 118 stops.
With sophomore Kerryon Johnson being held out of spring practice following shoulder surgery and Peyton Barber leaving early for the NFL?Draft, senior Jovon Robinson and junior Roc Thomas plus early high school graduate Malik Miller are the only scholarship tailbacks on the roster.
Rudy Ford returns an interception for a touchdown vs. Idaho, a run that Gus Malzahn said was impressive.
With the Tigers having to replace their starting offensive tackles from the 2015 team, Shon Coleman and Avery Young, new line coach Herb Hand is experimenting with different combinations on the offensive front. “Right now, everybody’s moving around,” said senior Robert Leff, who added that “there’s no telling” what the changes will be on the line. Leff was a backup left offensive tackle last season and also saw action at tight end.
Leff noted that he isn’t expecting any significant changes on assignments this fall. “As far as scheme, there’s very little difference,” he pointed out. “It’s the same offense and everything.”
Malzahn said that Leff has a great chance to take an expanded role this fall. “He is a guy we have a lot of confidence in,” the coach said. “He did a very good job last year. He played a tight end role, but he also started a couple of games and did a very good job when he got in. He is a veteran guy. He is a guy you can count on. His teammates have a lot of respect for him. He is a tough guy, too. We are pleased at where he is at.”
Robert Leff is a fifth-year senior from Fairhope High School.
Malzahn’s two new offensive coaches, Hand and Kodi Burns, are quite familiar with Auburn’s system. Burns played quarterback for the Tigers as well as wide receiver, the position he coached last season at Middle Tennessee State before making a move to Arizona State and later to Auburn. Hand worked with Malzahn for two seasons at Tulsa where the pair served as co-offensive coordinators.
“As far as being comfortable and having guys that have been with you, I think there’s great value to that, guys that know how you operate and played in your system,”?Malzahn said..” A lot of the guys have been with me for a long time. I think there’s something to that. It’s a comfort.
“Like I said earlier, our offense is unique,”?Malzahn added. “The more expertise that you have doing something is nothing but a positive. I’m very excited about this offensive staff and very comfortable.”
Marcus Davis, a senior wide receiver, is adjusting to have a new position coach with Burns replacing Dameyune Craig. “It is a great experience--a new coach,” Davis said. “It is the first time for me in three years. He brings a lot of positive energy and guys are responding well to him.”
Davis and Tony Stevens are the only seniors in the wide receiver group and are trying to take a leadership role, Davis pointed out. “We have been in this offensive system for a while now and we know it like the back of our hand. We are just trying to take the younger guys under our wings and get everybody on one page.”
Davis noted the most important the thing that needs to be accomplished with the wide receiver group is building a good chemistry with whoever plays quarterback this season. “There is a lot of potential,” he said.
In other news and notes:
*With lightning and a cold, heavy rain in the area the Tigers spent their two-hour workout at their indoor facility on Thursday.
*Marcus Davis predicted that early high school graduate wide receiver Kyle Davis should be able to contribute early. Kyle Davis is an Under Armour All-American from Archer High School in Lawrenceville, Ga., who is also getting an early look as a kickoff returner. Marcus Davis is the returning starter at punt returner. He averaged 11.5 years per return last season with one touchdown.
Auburn’s top kickoff returners last year were Rudy Ford (28.7 yards per return) and Kerryon Johnson (27.6 per return). Ford will be a senior this season and Johnson will be a sophomore.
Darius James is working at right tackle, but could play either side or even at guard.
*Commenting on junior offensive tackle Darius James, who is eligible to play after transferring from Texas last year, Malzahn said, “He is a talented young man. He sat out last year. He was with the scout team. That is always a tough job, especially for an older guy, but he handled it well. He did a solid job with that.
"He did a good job in our bowl prep," Malzahn added. "We had him playing up front. He is in a spot, and we will see how he does once pads get on Saturday. We like where he is at, and he's a talented young man.”
*The Tigers will practice in full pads for the first time this spring on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Malzahn said there may be some tackling, but noted the team will not scrimmage. They are scheduled to work out on Tuesday and Thursday next week before taking a break until March 22nd after classes resume following the university’s spring break.
Senior offensive lineman Jordan Diamond runs at drill in Thursday's practice.
*The A-Day Game is set for 3 p.m. CST on Saturday, April 9th.
*The Tigers will be hosts for their annual ?Pro Day workouts on Monday. Scouts will be in Auburn that morning and afternoon to do testing on former Tigers who have aspirations of playing in the National Football League.