Gus Malzahn’s signature flywheel of tailbacks has produced a leader at the end of spring ball.
Rising junior Kam Martin would be position coach Tim Horton’s running back of choice if Auburn’s season started today, Horton said Thursday evening before the Jackson County Auburn Club meeting in Scottsboro, Alabama.
Martin was the team’s No. 3 back in 2017 behind former Tigers Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway. The Texan saw action in 11 of Auburn’s 14 games, rushing for 453 yards and three total touchdowns, including a 136-yard performance in a season-opening victory over Georgia Southern.
“(Martin) would be the first one to go out on the field,” Horton told SEC Country’s Justin Ferguson. "Obviously, we don’t play today and so is he going to start against Washington? That kinda remains to be seen. But Kam would be first-team if we played today.”
The former four-star athlete was recruited as a speedster who was expected to make plays running side-to-side. Despite his 5-foot-10, 182-pound stature, Martin’s 6.7 yards per carry average through two seasons displayed to Horton that he is capable of being a back that can run through the tackles as well.
And although Horton said the running back has “probably gained 20 to 25 pounds since arriving on campus,” the coach remains skeptical of Martin’s ability to play every down.
“The one thing that I do know about the running backs that we’ve had in the past is they’ve all been 210 pounds, 215 pounds,” Horton said. “Well, Kam Martin is 195 … as the coach you’ve got to play your best guy, and so hopefully this will be a year we can keep people healthy and play two or three or four guys. I sure hope so.”
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Johnson’s departure will be the biggest void to fill for offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey’s unit, as the 2017 AP SEC Offensive Player of the Year accounted for nearly 46 percent of the Tigers’ rushing output last season.
Martin is joined by just one true backup tailback from last season: fellow junior Malik Miller, who ran for 135 yards in 2017. Sophomore Devan Barrett will be back but might not be exclusive to the backfield, as Malzahn utilized the Tampa, Florida product as a wideout-running back hybrid in Auburn’s A-Day spring game.
At A-Day, Martin didn’t see the field due to a hamstring injury, leaving Miller as the assumed No. 1 back. Miller carried the ball three times for one yard.
“About the eighth or ninth play of the scrimmage, Malik Miller dings his knee,” Horton said. “But again, that’s just another situation and another case of you better have depth because you can go from five to three in a hurry.”
Martin’s injury opened the door for increased carries from redshirt freshman JaTarvious Whitlow, true freshman Asa Martin and junior walk-on C.J. Tolbert.
The trio made the most of the spotlight.
“Boobee” Whitlow ran for 98 yards on 14 carries and Asa Martin racked up 66 yards on 17 attempts. Tolbert won Offensive MVP behind a 137-yard, two-touchdown performance.
When Miller returns, Horton will have a five-deep group, all of whom flashed potential in their brief appearances. The unit will be rounded out this summer when four-stars Shaun Shivers and Harold Joiner arrive.
Horton has a few months to sort out the redshirts and logistics of that seven-deep rotation. But if he had to lace them up today, he would have a plan.
“If we had to play today, it would probably be situational football,” Horton said. “There’s one guy that’s probably a better pass protector, there’s one guy who has probably a better runner, there’s one guy who might be a better pass receiver out of the backfield. It would be very situational in the sense that whatever the down and the distance and the situation dictates.”
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