Roc Thomas will be looking to help carry the load for Auburn in 2015
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. ― Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee says he doesn't know who his starting running back will be on opening day, but does know he likes the attitude of his hopefuls.
"They don't care who is getting the ball. They don't care who is getting the credit," Lashlee said after Wednesday's practice. "They're just out there working. They're responding to the coaching. They're trying to do everything we ask them to do. There seems to be that sense of hunger a little bit, which there should be after the way we finished."
In the running are the now-familiar names of Roc Thomas, Peyton Barber, Jovon Robinson and Kerryon Johnson, all of whom are trying to replace 1,000-yard rusher Cameron Artis-Payne, who replaced 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason the year before.
"Right now, I trust them all," Lashlee said.
Thomas and Barber have the most experience, and Thomas and Barber probably lead the race, Lashlee said. But that experience still pales compared to Artis-Payne and Mason. And Robinson and Johnson are still in there vying for time.
"Jovon has been getting better. Kerryon is a young guy and he's getting better," Lashlee said. "We're going to need all four of them. We're going to plan on playing them all and kind of see how that works itself out. We think they all do a lot of things well, some different than others."
Johnson, Mr. Football in the state last year, is coming back from a hamstring injury.
"Before he exited for a little bit, he was doing really well mentally," Lashlee said. "Already you felt like things were not too fast and it wasn't too much for him. He's entering back in to getting reps, and it's more of the same. He's doing a good job handling the mental part of it. I think he did a good job getting mental reps when he wasn't getting physical reps. He's doing well. When he showed up, he already had the presence of 'he's someone who can help us this year.' As of right now, it's still our plan."
Lashlee said he wants to make sure Thomas has the durability to be a featured back.
"Hopefully, having more weight will help keep him healthy through the season. He's not small ― he's over 200 pounds, 5-11 ― and 200-something pounds is a good sized back. Some guys that run hard and violent and with a lot of cutting like him sometimes you’re more concerned about them with durability.
"I think that's No. 1 thing we're most excited about. We hope that will help keep him healthy. And two, it has probably given him confidence to be tougher. He's been tough all fall camp. He's been great in pass protection. He's been great in short yardage situations. He's really grown up so far in practice from where he was in the spring."
• Lashlee says he'll likely play both Kamryn Pettway and Chandler Cox at H-back.
"Kamryn is a year older, so physically he's a year ahead. It helped having Chandler in the spring. There are certain things they do better, but they do it all pretty well. As we get going through the season, we'll see 'what he can he do better, how can he help us better.' But they're both going to play."
• "Practice was really good today," Lashlee said. "Yesterday was as well. We're treating it like game week. We're within 10 days of playing so today was a really good, long practice. Our guys really got after it. I thought we got a lot of good work done."
• Lashlee said receiver Duke Williams is still working with the second team.
"He's doing everything we asked him to do. He's practicing hard and practicing well, just like all the other guys."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine