AUBURN, Ala. — Last season, Kamryn Pettway evolved from a backup H-back to the SEC’s leading rusher. This season, new Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey could see Pettway becoming a better all-around weapon — one that consistently can catch passes out of the backfield.
Pettway only has 3 career receptions for 26 yards to his name, with two of those grabs coming last season. But Lindsey said people shouldn’t sleep on Pettway’s catching ability.
“Kamryn is a better pass catcher than people give him credit for,” Lindsey said last week. “Obviously he’s a very good running back. I think for his future developing himself as a route runner and catching the ball will only help him. I’ve been really pleased with him.”
Catching the ball out of the backfield is a huge emphasis for the Tigers’ running backs this spring, as it was a key feature in Lindsey’s previous offenses.
Last season at Arizona State, Lindsey’s top running back, Kalen Ballage, caught 44 passes for 469 yards as the team’s third-most productive receiver. Demario Richard added 17 more catches out of the backfield. In 2015, Lindsey’s running backs at Southern Miss combined for 89 total receptions.
Making that adjustment shouldn’t be a problem for Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson. He caught 31 passes over the last two seasons and played some wide receiver in high school. Johnson believes Pettway just needs more opportunities to shine in that area.
“Nobody really got a chance to see it,” Johnson said. “He didn’t get the ball a lot, but I think Pettway already has pretty good hands, (and he’s) obviously working that every day. Now with the opportunity to get the ball more, we pay even more attention to it.”
Pettway seems excited about the opportunities he could get as a receiver in Lindsey’s offense, which will feature more passing plays than in years past.
“I like being able to showcase my hands because a lot of times, we don’t get to do that,” Pettway said.
Few running backs with Pettway’s size — the defending SEC rushing champion is listed at 6-foot and 237 pounds — are effective receivers. Last season, Auburn mostly used him in obvious rushing situations and let Johnson be the back that ran routes.
But coaches and teammates say Pettway is a hard runner with soft hands.
“I think he already has pretty good hands, especially for a guy his size, you don’t expect him to catch the ball as well as he does,” Johnson said. “His drops are very limited.”
Lindsey has a lot of faith in Pettway’s potential development as a receiving option. That has a lot to do with the presence of running backs coach Tim Horton, who trained versatile running backs such as Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Michael Smith, Dennis Johnson, Tre Mason and Corey Grant into reliable passing targets.
“You’ve got Tim Horton, who is one of the best running back coaches in the country,” Lindsey said. “It’s not like he hasn’t coached ‘backs before who can route run and catch.
“We’ve tried to tighten some things up with those guys and give them some answers when to run certain types of routes. They’re doing really well.”