For the second time in the nearly decade-long Gus Malzahn era, Auburn is returning a starting quarterback. Jarrett Stidham is pretty good, too. Actually, he’s very good, and he needs a strong running back to help balance the offensive attack.
Over the years, that’s been the bread and butter for the Tigers, too. A running back has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in each of the nine seasons under Malzahn, with Ben Tate, Michael Dyer, Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne, Peyton Barber, Kamryn Pettway, and Kerryon Johnson carrying the tradition since 2009.
So, who is next?
It appears the veteran Auburn coach has his eyes set on junior running back Kam Martin ahead of fall camp.
“Right now I’d say this: Running back-wise, if we played today, Kam Martin would be the first guy out there,” Malzahn said at SEC Media Days in Atlanta. “But we do have four or five other guys that we feel very good about that’s competing for time.”
Senior linebacker Deshaun Davis agreed.
That competition will surely get heated in the coming weeks, but it definitely feels like the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Martin, who missed the Auburn’s A-Day spring game with a hamstring injury, is the running back everyone on the roster is trying to catch.
Martin, a versatile all-purpose back from Port Arthur, Texas, had 74 rushes for 453 yards with two touchdowns, and three receptions for 56 yards and another score in 11 games in 2017.
He had a career-high 136 rushing yards and a touchdown in the season opener against Georgia Southern.
As for who will be competing for carries, senior C.J. Tolbert, junior Cedric Chambers, sophomores Devan Barrett and Malik Miller, redshirt freshman JaTarvious Whitlow, and incoming four-star freshman Asa Martin make up a crowded Tigers’ backfield.
Of that group, with the biggest combination of size and speed, Whitlow might be the best competition, followed by Barrett and Miller.
There is still a long way to go, but, at the very least, Malzahn is confident.
“We’ve had nine straight 1,000-yard rushers at Auburn. That’s all-time SEC record. And I really feel strongly that that streak will continue,” he said. If you look back at our success, we usually try to have two guys as far as that. Unfortunately, you know, after the regular season, both our guys were a little banged up. There’s nothing like depth. We’re working hard to get that done.”
However, the offense all depends on how quickly the rather inexperienced offensive line can come together, according to Malzahn.
“We’ve got three guys that have started and I think a total of 20 games. So we’re very inexperienced,” he explained during his opening statement at the annual event at the College Football Hall of Fame. “But I will stay this: We’re talented. It’s just going to be a matter of time and hopefully sooner rather than later that that group jells, and that will be a big key for us offensively and as far as team-wise.”
No matter what, Malzahn has to feel pretty good knowing he has a stud in Stidham returning at quarterback and has an idea of his next 1,000-yard rusher for the Tigers in 2018.