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'Wide open' competition at key positions, Auburn begins spring practice
Gus Malzahn begins his sixth spring as Auburn's head coach with 'wide open' competitions at several positions/Photo: Wade RackleyAuburn Athletics
Gus Malzahn begins his sixth spring as Auburn's head coach with 'wide open' competitions at several positions/Photo: Wade RackleyAuburn Athletics
March 1, 2018

By Jeff Shearer

AUBURN, Ala. - Let the competition begin.

Auburn started spring practice Thursday with coaches focusing on three key areas: offensive line, secondary and backfield.

"I told the coordinators I want a two-deep at the end of spring," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.

At running back, the Tigers will look to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for a 10th straight year.

"That'll be a big key for this spring," Malzahn said. "[Running back coach Tim Horton's] got a great plan as far as rotating those guys. That group will probably get tackled more than we have in the past. That will be by design to make sure we leave spring with some kind of depth chart and some kind of order."

Last season, Kerryon Johnson led the SEC in rushing yards per game with 115.9, finishing with 1391 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. Kam Martin is the leading returner after gaining 453 yards and averaging 6.1 yards per carry in 2017.

"He's a guy we know quite a bit about," Malzahn said. "Malik [Miller] is a guy we know quite a bit about, but the other guys, they've got an opportunity."

How Auburn's running backs perform on non-running plays will be a key factor in determining playing time. To put it another way, before they can tote the rock, they'll have to show they can block.

"We talked about the running backs playing without the ball," Malzahn said. "All of these guys are very talented when they've got the ball in their hand and they can run, but there's more to playing the position than just running the football. That's going to be a big key to see who can separate themselves."



Among the contenders: sophomore Devan Barrett and mid-year enrollee Asa Martin.

"It's really wide open. That's the exciting part," Malzahn said. "We need to leave spring, we need to know who can protect. That's going to be big. We're going to put our running backs in a lot of situations to be able to protect."

Speaking of protecting, the Tigers are replacing several departed offensive line starters.

"We've got a bunch of young talented guys so I'm excited to see how that whole thing plays out, see who steps up," Malzahn said. "J.B Grimes is one of the best teachers that I've ever coached with in 29 years, so I'm excited for him to get out there and work with those guys."

Kaleb Kim and Nick Brahms are competing for the center position, along with converted tight end Tucker Brown.

"We want some good competition there," Malzahn said. "Everything is open and up for grabs. That's a good thing from a coaches' standpoint. You can never have enough centers."

Redshirt freshmen Calvin Ashley and Austin Troxell are working at right tackle, while Brodarious Hamm will compete at guard.

"The coaches believe he's got a very special talent," Malzahn said of Hamm. "He's very coachable. He wants to be good. This will be a really key spring for him. Get the pads on and see what he can do."

In the secondary, Auburn will replace safeties Stephen Roberts and Tray Matthews, and cornerback Carlton Davis. Mid-year enrollees Chrisitan Tutt, Jamien Sherwood and Smoke Monday will seek to get an early opportunity to impress.

"With the depth that we have, and losing the seniors we did, it was really critical to get those guys here early and just give them that head start," Malzahn said. "Spring is a critical time to get your guys out there and develop them."

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:

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