After a season in which Auburn’s nine-year streak of touting a 1,000-yard rusher was snapped, Auburn’s running backs have demonstrated the potential to become one of the better groups in the SEC.
Auburn held its first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday with all running backs – minus Shaun Shivers – seeing time on the field.
New running back coach Cadillac Williams rotated the running backs with all offensive groups, with Gus Malzahn saying that he saw lots of good things from the group.
The running backs are led by the most experienced runners, JaTarvious Whitlow and Kam Martin, but are closely followed by up-and-comers Harold Joiner and D.J. Williams.
“[Whitlow] has a year of experience,” Malzahn said. “He's a lot more comfortable and knows kind of what's going on a lot better. That's to be expected. Kam Martin's the same way. Those are the two experienced guys. And they should be, you know, thinking ahead and everything that goes with that. Harold Joiner got some good reps, D.J. got some good reps. But the two older guys that has experience. They should be a little more ahead as far as being comfortable."
Offensive lineman Jack Driscoll said that, during the scrimmage, the running back group showed promise, especially with an experienced offensive line making holes for the young but experienced group.
“We've seen a lot of encouraging stuff,” Driscoll said. “There were a lot of great runs today. There were a few touchdown runs. There are some great freshmen. D.J. Williams is an unbelievable athlete. Obviously, Boobee coming back with experience and the same with Kam Martin, there's a lot of guys. We feel really confident that we can run the ball, especially with having a senior line and a lot of experience at running back.”
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Whitlow, the leading rusher from last season and with one season under his belt at running back, has always been one of the most athletic players on the field. But during spring, Whitlow has demonstrated not only talent, but maturity and leadership.
“He's obviously a lot quicker, and he's running really aggressively,” Driscoll said. “The thing, honestly, that I've been happy with Boobee is that he's taken the next step in maturity and growth. It's hard as a redshirt freshman. I've been there before, and everyone's been there, where there are some growing pains and you're just getting used to it. Boobee is really mature, and he always practices hard now. That's what you love to see out of him.
“He already had our respect, and he's gaining more of our respect with how hard he's going and taking that next step. He knows he's a huge part of our offense and getting going.”
One of the more anticipated players from last season’s recruiting class, Joiner, has the seen the most uptick in usage this spring so far after redshirting his freshman year. He is seeing both time as a slot receiver and at the running back position, impressing both coaches and teammates.
“He's done great,” Driscoll said. “It's hard. When you're asked to do two different position, and one being a new position he's never played before, he's really picking it up. He's a physical kid. He'll throw his nose in there. I think that kind of gives him an opportunity to get on the field in a lot of different roles. There's a lot of running backs right now, but if he can do something that makes him unique — like block and do some other things out of the backfield — that's just another plus for him.
“He hasn't many, if any, mental mistakes, which has been really impressive for a young kid asked to do two different positions in an offense where there's a lot of different formations and a lot of different looks and reads. We've really been impressed with Harold as well.”
Joiner’s versatility and size is looking to become a strong weapon in Malzahn’s offense in the fall, but at today’s scrimmage, Joiner was mainly limited to playing just tailback, according to Malzahn.
“He's a versatile guy,” Malzahn said. “Today, we really wanted to give him a chance to play tailback. He has been very, very effective in the slot. He's a guy that will do both. He's really the main one that's playing two positions. But today, it was primary running back, and I thought he did some really good things."
Surprise recruit D.J. Williams has also impressed teammates early on this spring, especially the guys on the other side of the ball.
“You know what, [Williams] is really good, really quick," said junior linebacker K.J. Britt. "He’s got good short-area quickness. I believe he’s got really good vision. I’ve seen him out there stop on a dime the other day and cut it back. That’s something you’re born with. I believe he has the potential.”
Malzahn has already said that he wants a more up-tempo offense that will benefit the running backs on the roster, and with a group that is as deep as Auburn’s is now, the Tigers have the potential to get back to the prolific offense Malzahn is best known for.
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