Roc Thomas is one of the experienced backs at Auburn heading into the season
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. ― Freshman Kerryon Johnson has some catching up to do in the running back race, but coach Gus Malzahn said he's going to give him a chance.
"Kerryon is a talented guy, so we'll give him some touches, too," Malzahn said after Auburn's second practice of the preseason Wednesday.
Returning running backs Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber and December entry Jovon Robinson figure to have the inside track to replace SEC leading rusher Cameron Artis-Payne, but Johnson, Alabama's Mr. Football last season at Madison Academy, is on the board, too.
He and the other freshmen have learning the practice routine through the first two days of drills with the veterans, including Thomas, Barber and Robinson, doing a lot of the work.
"For the next two weeks we're going to try give them somewhat equal reps," Malzahn said. "We're hoping somebody will really raise up, especially in the scrimmages when they're getting tackled, and have some kind of pecking order going in. The good thing is the three older guys, we've got some good information. We feel like all of them can run our offense.
"Two years ago we rotated two or three guys until Game 4. Last year, we kind of knew a little bit more going in, but it could be specific. We'll just see how it goes. "
Malzahn said Johnson, and other freshmen, will get a chance to impress in upcoming scrimmages.
"The good thing is we've got options and we've got guys we feel good about. I think that's the best thing," Malzahn said. "You can never have enough running back depth."
Malzahn said Thomas is "a little bit bigger than he was. He's put on some weight and he's practiced well — as well as the other running backs have."
• Malzahn said his punt and kick return games will also be under scrutiny in the scrimmages.
"There's a good chance we will go live for some reps, punt return and possibly kick return. We’ll just have to see once we get there, but there is a chance."
An assortment of running backs, defensive backs and receivers are vying for those jobs.
• Malzahn said the first two days of practice have gone well.
"I felt like our older guys really responded to our challenge of our standard of practice with the effort, the attitude, the great body language and everything that goes with that. That was encouraging for our coaching staff.
"Our young guys are still learning."
Auburn will put on shoulder pads for the first time Thursday.
• Safety Tray Matthews was at practice. He missed the first day because of personal reasons.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine