AUBURN, Ala. — The format for Auburn’s first two practices of preseason camp was identical. Veterans went through drills first, demonstrating the proper way to execute, before younger players got a chance to show off their skills.
The good news for the Tigers this week — despite the dismissal of starting running back Jovon Robinson — was that beginners did not disappoint.
Auburn dressed without pads during their first two days of practice, but despite limited action or contact, accomplished players and the coaching staff saw potential.
“We’re out there in helmets, but you could see the way they move around and you could see that there’s some talented guys out there,” Malzahn said. “Matter of fact, you could see the first day that there’s going to be some guys that will help us this year. We expected that anyway but just kind of confirmed that.”
Malzahn said it usually takes the entirety of fall camp for coaches to know which underclassmen can contribute that season and which ones could benefit more from another year of development.
The veterans are encouraged by what they’re seeing, too.
“You have a great group of guys and it’s more than just one, all of them are talented,” senior receiver Marcus Davis said. “From Nate Craig-Myers, to Kyle Davis, to Eli Stove to Marquis McClain. All those guys have something different that they bring to the table.”
DT Montravius Adams recognized the added depth on the defensive side and expects the young players to drive the more experienced players to perform at a higher level.
The running backs don’t have a choice. The Robinson news thrust several freshmen and sophomore backs in the spotlight.
As important as picking up the physicality of the game is for the young players, their mindset is just as vital and an encouraging quality.
Sophomore running back Kerryon Johnson rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns in 2015. Even though he’s only been in Auburn for one season, he’s adopted the attitude of a seasoned leader.
“I believe that I can be a 1,000- yard rusher, I believe that (Kamryn) Pettway can be a 1,000-yard rusher, I believe Chandler (Cox), Malik (Miller), Kam Martin, I believe that all of us can do it,” Johnson said. “And that’s what we’re going to do. Talk is cheap. Now we have to go out and prove it starting Sept. 3.”
Johnson knows the challenge of being a running back in the SEC. He’s also aware of Auburn’s history of success at the position. He remains sure of Auburn’s overall determination.
“I’ve never doubted myself, not once. Never in my life, I’ve never doubted myself,” Johnson said. “I believe we can have two 1,000-yard rushers, three, however many we need to win — that’s what we’re going to do.”
Robinson’s exit led coaches to experiment with positions on both sides of the ball. Freshman Stephen Davis Jr., who arrived on campus listed as a safety, is practicing at running back — a familiar spot in the Davis family as his father, Stephen, ran for 2,811 yards and 30 TDs at Auburn (1993-95).
Auburn will practice in pads for the first time Friday. Malzahn expects repetition and the physical practices to provide more insight into the roles his players will take on in a few weeks.
To this point one thing is certain: The future of at least several young Tigers looks bright.