AUBURN, Ala. — When Auburn defeated Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl last December, Jovon Robinson clearly made significant improvements. After a tumultuous start to the year (the junior was sidelined by an ankle injury and off-the-field issues), he rushed for 126 yards in the Tigers’ final game and earned MVP honors.
Yet when the Tigers met for their first preseason practice Wednesday afternoon, the senior was missing.
By the end of the evening, coach Gus Malzahn announced that Robinson was dismissed from the program.
“I dismissed Jovon Robinson from our football team today,” Malzahn said. “He did not meet my standards or expectations of what it takes to be an Auburn Tiger football player. We’re going to have zero distractions on this team this year. I’ve given him his release and we wish him the best.”
Malzahn provided little detail about the reasoning for the decision, but spoke about the opportunities that the unexpected news creates.
“You know I feel good about where we’re at,” Malzahn said. “It’s a great opportunity for the other guys. So I feel very good and I feel like people will step up and I think people will step up around the running back position, too.”
Auburn players had mixed reactions to the news. Senior defensive end Carl Lawson offered little comment while offensive tackle Austin Golson and senior receiver Marcus Davis said they supported their coach’s decision.
There are positives for the Tigers. Malzahn has coached a 1,000-yard rusher in each of his last three seasons as the Auburn head coach.
The offensive line is returning three veteran starters — Golson at left tackle, left guard Alex Kozan and right guard Braden Smith — and right tackle Robert Leff has seen considerable minutes.
Still, it has been a challenging offseason for Auburn. At the end of last season, Peyton Barber surprised the Tigers when he chose to pursue an NFL career, and Roc Thomas transferred to Jacksonville State earlier this summer.
Sophomore Kerryon Johnson (208 rushing yards, 3 TDs) progressed throughout the season and saw meaningful time as a true freshman. Johnson and fullback Kamryn Pettway are expected to contribute in Robinson’s absence. Another newcomer, former Baylor commitment Kameron Martin, also is in the mix. Now, Johnson, Pettway, Martin and others like Chandler Cox and newcomer Malik Miller will be asked to contribute more to Auburn’s offense.
Robinson’s departure also directs a greater focus to the quarterback battle between returning QBs Jeremy Johnson and Sean White and junior college transfer John Franklin III. Malzahn said Wednesday that freshman Woody Barrett would not be included in the group competing for the starting quarterback role.
“Any time you have to dismiss a player, I don’t care who it is, it’s tough as a coach,” Malzahn said of Robinson. “This is a team and this year there’ll be no distractions. You always feel bad as a coach if somebody’s dismissed but you’re going to do what’s best for the team. That’s what I did.”