Auburn, Ala.--While some may have already written off Auburn's running attack the dismissal of running back Jovon Robinson, Tim Horton isn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. AU's veteran running backs coach and a guy who has consistently produced quality players at the position, said having guys like Kerryon Johnson, Kamryn Pettway, Chandler Cox, Malik Miller, Kameron Martin and walk-on C.J. Tolbert have made this preseason an enjoyable one for him.
“It's awesome,” Horton said of the running back group he’s working with this year. “I've enjoyed this group as much as any I've ever coached. They are quality young men.”
That’s a good start, but in the end it’s all about production in the running game for an offense that will heavily count on its ability to move the football on the ground. Returning three players who saw action last season, and adding a much heavier work load to all three, Horton said he’s anxious to see how the depth chart shakes out and in his mind it’s definitely still a battle.
“It’s an open competition,” Horton said. “We’ve got really five guys. There’s the three veterans that have really played in games that I feel really good about, starting with Chandler Cox, Bubba (Kam Pettway), and Kerryon Johnson. I just think it’s too early in the process to say boom, this is the one guy.
“We’ll just kind of see how it evolves,” he added. “If there is one guy that takes that lead role, that’s great, but if we have to do it by committee I’ve been there and done that. That has been good, too. I really like when you can give them a couple of different styles and keep a fresh player in the game. I really like that part of it.”
Coach Tim Horton on Kam Martin and the rest of the Auburn running backs
Using more than one back is something Horton did quite often coaching the position at Arkansas, but at Auburn the Tigers have usually relied on one guy to handle the majority of the carries in the running game. With a history that includes having Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis all in the same backfield, Horton said he’s looking forward to having that kind of variety once again.
“I’ve never been a big fan of having all your running backs exactly alike,” the coach said. “I think now you’ve got different styles. You’ve got a Kerryon style. You’ve got Chander and Bubba (Pettway), who are bigger backs, one cut North-South runners. Then you’ve got Kam (Martin), who’s going to be a quick, speed guy that has shown the ability to still run between the tackles.”
An player who should see more touches this season is Johnson. Now up to 211 pounds, he has never been a guy who has been a workhorse, even dating back to high school when he shared the load with Miller at Madison Academy. That is something still to be determined, but Horton said the added size and strength is a big benefit heading into the season.
“It’s got to help him,” Horton said of Johnson. “That’s really been a point of emphasis between he and I, the importance of staying in that weight room and pushing himself in the weight room. When you’re a 25-carry a night guy you’re going to get hit. You better be able to take some of that punishment.”
Kameron Martin has the speed to get on the field early for the Tigers
On the other end of the spectrum is the speedy Martin. Originally signing with Baylor before getting released from his scholarship following the firing of Coach Art Briles, Martin has already made a strong impact on his coaches and teammates early in preseason camp. Now he will have a chance to show he’s ready for prime time on Tuesday when the Tigers take the field for the first scrimmage of the preseason.
“He can play, he can play,” Horton said of Martin. “It will really be interesting to see the scrimmage (Tuesday) because we’re going to see. In terms of the physical aspects, he’s quick enough, he’s got good enough ball skills, he knows the offense. It’s going to be really fun to watch him tomorrow and see how, can he handle the speed of the game? I think he can.”