ROME, Georgia — If you read between the lines, you already know who is the leader in Auburn’s race to find its starting running back.
Word is coming from running backs coach Tim Horton, who continued to hint to Jovon Robinson as being the power running back the Tigers need to be successful in the fall.
“I mean, there’s one that’s probably a little above the other right now, but it is what it is,” Horton said Monday outside an alumni event.
That running back appears to be Robinson, the nation’s former No. 1 junior college player. He rushed for 90 yards or more in five of the final six games last season, supplanting the since-departed Peyton Barber as the Tigers’ go-to running threat.
Robinson’s first season at Auburn got off to a slow start due to attitude issues and an ankle injury. His attitude and attentiveness at practices and in the meeting room led to him becoming the third- and fourth-team tailback in August practices. He jumped up the depth chart as the season continued and injuries piled up through the season.
“Obviously, Jovon Robinson really had a nice spring,” Horton said. “He kind of elevated himself going into fall camp. He’s in a good position. One of the things we did is look at Roc Thomas both as a receiver and running back. I thought he had a good spring particularly asking him to do some things he hadn’t done before in the slot position.”
Just because Robinson might be the leader doesn’t mean he will be the starter in the season opener. Anything can happen between May and September. Auburn opens the season Sept. 3 against Clemson inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“One thing you always want to do as a coach is we need to make sure they have the right maturity through the summer and the right work ethic through the summer,” Horton said. “So sometimes I think when coaches wait to name starters, they want to make sure that, hey, this kid can handle what role we’re fixing to give to him. I don’t think those roles will be defined until a couple of weeks before the Clemson game.”
When asked to further clarify the player leading the pack he said: “You all can read between the lines.”
When a reporter mentioned Robinson, Horton responded: “Well, there you go, that’s good.”
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn usually waits two to three weeks into the season before settling on a “workhorse” tailback, but Robinson appears to be well ahead of the others on the roster.
Thomas is Robinson’s main competition, but Horton often referred to him as a dual-threat player at tailback and slot receiver because of his speed.
“That’s kind of a storyline that kinda gets played out year by year, but because of Jovon’s physicalness and the body type he is, I think he’s a guy on our team that could do that, whereas someone like [Kerryon Johnson], I don’t know that KJ could last with 30 carries over a course of a three- or four-week period,” Horton said. “I just don’t know that his body can handle that. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out, but I think Jovon is one that can handle it.”