By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Rhett Lashlee is keeping an open mind this preseason practice, whether it comes to naming a starting quarterback or how his running back race plays out.
Auburn's offensive coordinator and head coach Gus Malzahn are taking their time, for while they'd like to name a starting quarterback sooner than later, picking the right guy, Lashlee said, is paramount.
Your contenders for the quarterback job are Sean White, Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III. The contenders at tailback include Kerryon Johnson, Kamryn Pettway, Kam Martin and Malik Miller.
A scrimmage or two could decide the pecking order.
Lashlee knows about White and Johnson. They each started for Auburn last year. But the running back starter will be new. For now, Lashlee said, "we'll learn what they can handle and what they can't. It may be a committee thing. It may be a deal where we don't have maybe that guy that has 30 carries like we have in the past. Or that it may be a guy who emerges who can handle that. We'll take it as it comes.
"We do feel like those guys can do a very good job for us at running back. We've got other guys who can be explosive, too, whether it's young guys or other ways to run the football, too. We want know until we go out there and give it to them 20, 25 times."
Lashlee and Malzahn and Auburn have known how to find the right running backs and how to rush for 1,000 yards. Counting Cam Newton, Auburn has produced seven players who have rushed for more than 1,000 yards over the last six seasons.
Auburn wrapped up its fourth preseason practice Saturday. The Tigers will be in full pads for the first time Sunday, then take Monday off, then scrimmage by midweek.
Lashlee's take so far?
"From a quarterback standpoint, some good, some bad. It's hard when you're trying go cycle all three equally in terms of anybody getting a lot of continual reps to get a great evaluation, The scrimmage will really help us with that. All three have done a nice job making plays, but all three have missed some plays.
"We’re not going to put a guy out there if he's not ready, if he can't protect the football and he doesn't give us the best chance to win. Sometimes that guy is not ready at the beginning of the year. Sometimes they’re ready by Week 6. You see that with a lot of people a lot of times whether it’s a true freshman or a redshirt freshman.
"In this case with John, he’s also like a true freshman. I know he's coming from junior college, but he didn't play either of his two years at Florida State and he split time last year (in junior college), so he doesn't have a lot of college snaps under his belt.”
The running back battle features the versatile Kerryon Johnson, who did a bit of everything last season.
"Kerryon is steady. He's very instinctive," Lashlee said. "He's had one season here and he's never had a game where he's had a ton of carries, but he's smart. He's a real smart kid and understands the schemes and protections and has good instincts. We've just got to continue to get him reps and get him ready."
Pettway, an H-back last season, figures to have an expanded role this year.
"We're going to need Kam to be a big part of our success," Lashlee said. "he good thing is, he's played tailback before and he’s now played H-back, so there's a lot of versatility there. He's a load when he gets going, and he goes downhill. He runs like a running back is supposed to, and he’s a load. So we're really counting on him to step up and have a big year, and so far, he’s doing everything you’d like him to do to be going in that direction."
Kam Martin is the latest addition, joining Auburn after originally signing with Baylor.
"He's really fast. He’s a really good kid," Lashlee said. "He wants to be able to help us this year."
Chandler Cox says he's splitting time between tailback and H-back.
"Chandler rushed for a bunch of yards in the highest league in Florida football and won state championships. So Chandler is a guy that can carry the football," Lashlee said.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine