By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - With little to prove after rushing for a combined 2,119 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, Auburn running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson were spectators in Monday's first preseason scrimmage.
While Auburn's coaches evaluate the competitors for the No. 3 running back slot, the SEC's leading returning rushing duo seeks to improve during those practices that take place outside of Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"My goal is to help my team as much as I can," said Pettway, who led the SEC with 122.4 rushing yards per game in 2016. "Be more of a leader this year. Help my team accomplish our goals."
Both juniors seek to influence their younger teammates by keeping the enthusiasm level high as camp progresses.
"It's easy because the closer the game gets, the more energy gets on campus, and the more energy you feel around the team," said Johnson, who ran for 895 yards and a team-high 11 touchdowns last season. "We're trying to simulate that right now, keep it going, because we know if we can simulate that same feeling, we'll get a lot better earlier."
"Those guys are fighting each and every day," Pettway said. "All of those guys are great. Either one could step up and have that position, so I see those guys fighting hard for that position every day."
"We have an excellent room," Johnson said. "From one through nine or 10, everybody knows we all need each other and everybody knows we have to go out and give our best every day individually and the rest will take care of itself. Every day we encourage each other. Every day we give 100 percent effort and let the rest play out."
After his breakout 2016 season, Pettway is aiming even higher this year.
"My individual goal is to break the school rushing record, but whatever I can do to help my team," said Pettway, referencing Tre Mason's 1,816-yard campaign in Auburn's 2013 SEC Championship season. "I feel like I can. Hard work, dedication, knowing what I know how to do."
Pettway looks forward to sharing carries with Johnson.
"We really like it better with both of us healthy," Pettway said. "We realize it's much easier if you have each other."
A year ago, Pettway was a converted fullback in search of his first SEC carry.
"It's easier this year because I can just focus on one position," Pettway said. "Last year, I was trying to focus on fullback and running back. Now that I focus on one thing, I can help the younger guys learn and catch on to things."
Speaking of catching, both backs are eager to display their receiving skills, a talent that could be prominently featured in Lindsey's offense.
"I'm great with that," Pettway said. "I love catching passes out of the backfield this year."
"We have a lot more options than we have in the past, in terms of running backs getting open," Johnson said. "Hopefully I can do that because I've been catching passes all my life so I feel like that just gives me more chances to make plays, more chances to get on the field, so I think you can expect that this year."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer