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Position Group Previews: Running Backs

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Fall [sic] camp has seen two leaders emerge from a crowded backfield. Will anyone end up the bell cow in 2018?

Clemson v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Yesterday, we looked at quarterbacks and the defensive line, arguably the best and most settled position groups for our Tigers. Now, it’s time to dive into a position group that is a bit more unclear: running backs. Who will be the starter(s)? Will some of the other guys have roles? All this and more on today’s episode article of Position Group Previews!

THE “AND”-S

Right now, the two guys in this section are probably going to be listed as co-starters the first few weeks.

Kam Martin

Port Arthur’s own (as Son of Crow calls him) is the most experienced back in Auburn right now. In two seasons at Auburn, Martin has played in 17 games as a backup, and has totaled 118 carries for 773 yards, good for 6.6 ypc. Granted, most of those carries were in mop up duty, but it shows the kind of pop he has. Watching Kam Martin run will be a total shift from Kerryon Johnson last year. While KJ was a master of waiting for a hole to open and not missing it when it does, when Kam’s at his best, he is taking a handoff, hitting a hole as fast as he can, and getting upfield. Since he isn’t the biggest back, though, he has had trouble in the past getting through arm tackles at the line of scrimmage. AUNerd had a great write-up on Kam earlier in the summer, and I really encourage you to go back and read it for a better understanding of Martin’s strengths and weaknesses.

Here’s the big play potential Kam has, hitting the line quickly and blowing past the second level before they can catch him...

And here’s what happens if they can get a piece of him in the backfield...

Obviously, there’s a lot to like about Kam. He may not be the 25 carry/game back that Auburn has leaned on in year’s past, but he’ll be a stater for a reason and should consistently get 10-15 touches per game.

JaTarvious “Boobee” Whitlow

Boobee (yes, like Friday Night Lights) is possibly the biggest X-factor to the offense this season. If the hype is to be believed, he could be the most physically talented back Gus has had at Auburn. Him having a breakout season, along with having Kam as a complimentary back, would allow the offense to do nearly anything it wants. A former high-school quarterback/running back/receiver, Whitlow can do it all. He didn’t receive much hype coming out of high school, partially because he played all over the field (Auburn recruited him as a safety) and partially because he played a 2A LaFayette High School (pronounced La-FETT) just 20 miles up the road from Auburn.

Whitlow came in to Auburn last season as a potential kick returner due to his talent in the open field, but a lower leg injury kept him out and caused him to redshirt. Over the offseason, he settled in to the running back role, and impressed everyone in spring practice. There were reports of him making all sorts of field reversing, run 80 yards to gain 25 highlight plays, and even the defense raved about him. And at 6’, 215 lbs, he’s got enough size to run between the tackles, as well. The only knock on him in the spring was that sometimes he wouldn’t know when to get down, and instead of a 25 yard highlight, he’d turn an easy 3 yard gain into a 5 yard loss. It sounds like those plays have calmed down a bit in fall camp, but hopefully we see him utilize that jaw-dropping agility and elusiveness that has turned heads in East Alabama for several years now.

The most recent reports have Boobee in a lock with Kam as co-starter for now, and it doesn’t sound like anything either one of them do in camp will change that. I think you’ll see him also get 15 carries or so in the first few games of the season, and because of his QB experience, he may get to man the Wildcat, as well.

THE FRESHMEN

A pair of true freshmen came to Auburn this year with some major hype. Desite not being one of the top two options, they might both see the field this season as opposed to redshirting.

Asa Martin

Martin, a 4* recruit out of Decatur, AL, was one of the centerpieces to a solid 2018 recruiting classes. An early enrollee, he signed with Auburn in the early signing period in December, and was able to go through all of spring practice with Auburn in an attempt to win playing time in an open running back battle. Despite not being mentioned as one of the two to separate themselves from the pack in fall camp, Asa still figures to see some carries as the team’s third or fourth back this fall. He might have the best all-around upside in this group, doing everything well, so he will be a name to watch as the season goes on and into 2019.

Shaun Shivers

The other true freshman, Shaun Shivers, has been somewhat of a camp sensation. Despite being the smallest player on Auburn’s roster at 5’7”, 173 lbs, Shivers has drawn some rave reviews in camp and has even earned a role as one of the kick return specialists. Shaun has blazing speed, with a PR in the 100m at 10.3 seconds in high school, and with his compact size, he will be a tough man to catch. The obvious comp for Shivers (admittedly without having seen him play) is Darren Sproles, who made a great NFL career out of being a massively undersized all-purpose back who was a threat to run or catch the ball from anywhere on the field. We’ll see how Shivers performs this fall, but he could become a fun weapon and a fan favorite soon for the Tigers.

THE VET

Malik Miller

Kerryon Johnson’s former running mate from Madison Academy has had a rough go of his college career at running back. Miller played in just two games before suffering a knee injury in 2016, and was relegated to third or fourth string for most of last year. There’s a chance that Miller is just now recovering fully from two separate knee injuries over the last two years, but with another fall camp full of nagging injuries and star underclassmen ahead of him on the depth chart, Miller may not have much of a chance to contribute in 2018. As a shorter, stouter running back, there’s a chance he could convert to a H-back (or God forbid Auburn ever used a true fullback). Miller is a steadying veteran voice in the Auburn running-back room, though, and I’m glad to have him in the stable should we call on him.

THE H-BACK

Chandler Cox

I’ll say it: Chandler Cox is the most under-rated player on the Auburn roster. Despite drawing the ire of the entire fan-base for the Cox-Cat and the goal-line sweep against Clemson, Cox has been a solid H-back for Auburn after the team struggled to replace Jay Prosch after 2013. The guy can block and he’s enough of a threat to catch the ball that the defense can’t just ignore him.

A good HB/FB block on the perimeter is like a fat guy touchdown; it doesn’t happen enough, but when it does... whew. It’s beautiful. Cox was making blocks like that as a freshman, and now that he’s a four year starter as a senior, I look to him to play a huge rule in making room for our running backs (and receivers on the flats).