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Auburn may kick off with a running back by committee
Aug. 22, 2015

Gus Malzahn and Auburn were on the Big Board in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala. ― Gus Malzahn isn't ready to name a starting running back, and said he may go with a running back-by-committee early on, but he is moving closer to knowing his starting offensive lineup for the Sept. 5 season-opener against Louisville.

The defense may be a different matter.

"Every day is another interview. Every day is a new start," linebacker Kris Frost said earlier this week of the ongoing battle for starting positions in Will Mushamp's defense.

Malzahn acknowledged Saturday there are some defensive positons in which the players have to earn their status every day. To that end, Auburn ran what Malzahn described as a 30-play "young guy scrimmage" in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday before practicing the veterans in the indoor facility later in the morning.

"We're really just still trying to figure out how ready some of those guys are to really help us the first game," Malzahn said of the Jordan-Hare scrimmage that, in part, helped the players grow accustomed to college football's biggest video board.

The depth chart is rounding into shape. "We're close. We're not completely there," Malzahn said. "But that can be a good thing, too. Special teams is probably the group that is a little more wide open at this point, which is natural especially with the young guys that are going to end up helping us."

The running back race between Roc Thomas, Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson continues.

"It's really about the same," Malzahn said. "You got three guys that you feel you can line up and run your whole offense. Hopefully, we'll have a little bit more information before the first game, but right now I think we’re in a good spot — at least going into the season. It may be by committee early, we'll see."

Two of the remaining battles on offense is center, between Austin Golson and Xavier Dampeer and at left guard between Alex Kozan and Devonte Danzey.

"They're still getting equal reps. That's one of those cases that's a good thing because it gives you depth," Malzahn said. "Right now, there's seven guys that we feel very good about playing (in the offensive line) and you could possibly add an eighth or ninth.

"I feel like we have more quality depth upfront than what we've had in the past, at least since I've been at Auburn."

Also… ⇩⇩⇩

• Malzahn said the veterans began working on "our game prep" for Louisville "just to keep the integrity of what we're doing. We had a good practice. Our guys got after it. Our coaches really strained our guys, tasked our guys.

"We challenged our players to feel that urgency because we're two weeks away from playing a really good team and it will be a dogfight and our guys need to understand that."

• Malzahn said the punting race is ongoing between Kevin Phillips and Ian Shannon.

"Today was a big day for them. We actually did some punts versus some live upfront and we also had some sky punts. I think both of them are talented enough to do it. Hopefully, in the next week we can make a call on that. That's another area that we feel like it's a good thing that we feel like we have two guys that can get the job done."

• Malzahn said starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson is handling the two-minute offense.

"We've had a lot of success in two-minute situations the last two years," Malzahn said. "We work very hard on it. There were times last year that he practiced with the ones in two-minute situations. He's done well. I really feel like a big part of that is just understanding the game and what to expect in certain situations you put them in and how to protect the football and how to run the clock."

• Malzahn said Duke Williams is with second-team receivers as he returns from a discipline issue.

"He's responded well. He’s had some good practices," Malzahn said. "He’s like everybody else, you prove it every day in practice. We’ll see as it gets closer to the game."

Fellow receiver Marcus Davis said Williams is "back to normal, motivating guys, making sure we're doing the little things right. I just feel like he's ready to make a difference."

• Jonathan Wallace, who started four games at quarterback in 2012 before he began his journey to receiver, is taking some snaps at quarterback.

Just in case.

"He's still a wide receiver," Malzahn said. "We're just going to make sure we have a good plan, all the 'what-ifs' later in the season if you got injuries."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:


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