Why Auburn football held Kamryn Pettway, Kerryon Johnson out of first preseason scrimmage

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s defense couldn’t tackle Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson during the first scrimmage because neither running back was on the field. Looking ahead, Gus Malzahn says that could be the case for the entire preseason.

“We’ll see moving forward if those guys, if we decide the second scrimmage or even the third scrimmage to get them tackled,” Malzahn said. “We haven’t decided that yet.”

But that’s not necessarily the worst thing for Auburn’s returning backfield standouts.

Auburn and the rest of the college football sphere won’t be taking Kamryn Pettway or his lofty goals for 2017 lightly. Similarly, Johnson has established himself as a shifty playmaker in his time on the field for the Tigers. Both are looking to add to their football resumes this season.

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That’s the primary reason for holding out the duo. Malzahn has more than enough information on the two, who perhaps most importantly are “healthy right now.”

Of course, the Tigers learned the importance of backfield depth last season as Pettway and Johnson dealt with nagging injuries. That makes determining the No. 3 running back all the more important for Auburn.

As a result Kam Martin, Malik Miller, CJ Tolbert, and to some extent freshmen Devan Barrett and JaTarvious Whitlow, were the focus of the first fall scrimmage on Monday morning.

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“I thought it was really good to see what they could do and really who could step up because it’s been kind of a really close race,” Malzahn said. “Just have to start figuring out who’s going to get the reps as far as that goes.”

Malzahn, as well as Pettway and Johnson were eager to see how Auburn’s young players would perform and react in pads in Jordan-Hare. The head coach hasn’t been the only one to hint at how tight the race is.

“Those guys are fighting each and every day,” Pettway said. “All those guys are great. Anyone can step up and have that position so I see those guys fighting hard for that position every day.”

Speed is what Miller, Martin and Barrett bring behind Pettway and Johnson. And while it remains to be seen who will earn minutes, two things are certain. It’s going to require some serious skill to play behind Pettway and Johnson. And No. 2? Auburn is going to run the football no matter what.

“He (Lindsey) still knows that we have one of the best backfields in the country,” Johnson said. “And he’s not going to be afraid to use it.”