AUBURN, Ala. — Since the start of Auburn football spring practice in late February, the intrigue around the Tigers’ running backs has been outside the top two on the depth chart.
With almost two weeks to go before the start of the 2017 season, Auburn hasn’t determined which running back will be the next man up behind juniors Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson. The battle continues among sophomore Kam Martin, redshirt freshman Malik Miller and freshman Devan Barrett.
“We’ve been charting the scrimmages and different things have been going on and who’s been the most productive,” Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said Wednesday night. “I think they all three can fit in our offense, I just think right now we’re still kind of looking for that guy.”
While Pettway fits the mold of a power back and Johnson is a versatile runner-receiver, Auburn wants the best of both worlds in its No. 3 rusher this fall.
“I do think we’re looking for the third, most well-rounded back that we can find,” Lindsey said. “I think the three guys in that spot that are competing are all a little different, so I think it’ll be kind of who makes the biggest difference.”
The No. 3 running back’s potential work in the passing game sticks out to coach Gus Malzahn, who brought Lindsey aboard to revamp it.
“We’re looking for guys that can not only run the football, but [pass] protect,” Malzahn said. “Like we’ve talked about with Chip … checkdowns with his backs is going to be very important.”
The three running backs gunning for that job differ in both size and style.
Miller, who had the No. 3 job last year before season-ending left knee surgery in the first month of the season, has been described by running backs coach Tim Horton as a “one-cut, north-south type runner” at 225 pounds. Horton also spoke highly of Miller’s ball skills as a receiver earlier in camp.
Martin is the epitome of a speed back at 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds. He was an accomplished track star in high school in Port Arthur, Texas, and he broke through with several long runs as a freshman in 2016. Martin might not be a traditional between-the-tackles runner, but he’s a weapon in space.
Horton left the door open in the spring for Barrett, a 4-star signee from Tampa, Fla., to compete for the No. 3 job in fall camp. So far, he’s done just that, and he has a shot to beat both Miller and Martin out for the role, especially after a pair of successful scrimmages last week.
Barrett stood out in practices with his natural receiving skills and a willingness to take on contact. On Wednesday, Lindsey specifically mentioned Barrett when asked about the skill set he wanted to see out of the third running back.
“I think there will be some situational things,” Lindsey said. “Devan brings some things to the table that’s a little different from a skill set standpoint. Obviously, we feel really good about our first two guys and then how much that third guy plays kinds of depends on scenarios in the games, injuries and so forth.”
Last week, Horton hinted Auburn might rotate the No. 3 running back responsibilities during the season.
“It might be a situation where, hey, this guy’s a better protector, this guy’s a better receiver, this guy’s a better inside runner, a better outside runner,” Horton said. “You might end up mixing and matching.”
Auburn’s staff has placed a high priority on finding a No. 3 running back in fall camp. Since it knows what it has in Pettway and Johnson, the trio has worked with the first-team offense in practices and scrimmages all camp.
“I think those three guys have gotten the bulk of the reps and really done a nice job,” Lindsey said. “All three of them have shown flashes and been really good players. ”