During spring camp, Coach Gus Malzahn spoke of running the offense at a high tempo and the need to limit substitution. He noted opposing teams were able to counter Auburn’s substitutions with different personnel groupings, which defeated Auburn’s intent of substituting specific players to execute individual plays. One of Malzahn’s goals this spring was to identify players who could play multiple roles on offense to limit substitutions. One of the players who could benefit from this plan is Harold Joiner, a redshirt freshman with plenty of talent. At 6-4, 220 pounds, Joiner was signed as an athlete with the potential to play wide receiver or running back but finds himself in more of an H-Back role in 2019.
During this year’s A-Day Game to wrap up spring practice, Harold Joiner moved around on the field to take advantage of his athletic ability. He lined up as a running back 12 times, in the slot eight times and at flanker five times. An additional role he might carry this season is the wildcat quarterback, a formation not executed during the final scrimmage game. His versatility will allow Auburn to play him at multiple facets, which should create mismatches against the opposition.
Charles Clay and Mario Fannin Role:
During the Malzahn offensive era at Auburn, Gus Malzahn has utilized certain players in a “role” capacity. These are players who are not full-time starters but take enough snaps to make a major contribution to the offense. These “role players” have accounted for nearly 25 percent of Auburn’s impact plays in Malzahn’s offense. While at Tulsa, Gus Malzahn converted Charles Clay, a three-star running back into an H-Back during his freshman season. At 6-3, 222 pounds, Malzahn took advantage of Clay’s skill set to become a significant contributor during the 2007 season. Under Gus Malzahn, Clay ran the football 82 times for 449 yards and caught 107 passes for 1488 yards during 2007 and 2008. Clay finished his Tulsa career with 3455 combined offensive yards and 38 touchdowns. He was later drafted into the NFL as a tight end and entered his ninth season in the NFL this year.
When Malzahn arrived at Auburn as the offensive coordinator, he made the same adjustment with Mario Fannin, who had been a part-time starter at running back under Tommy Tuberville. Malzahn converted Fannin into more of an H-Back role during 2009, and 2010 and Fannin finished his last two seasons with 1266 yards and ten touchdowns as a role player. Though Mario Fannin only had 154 offensive touches during his last two seasons, he accounted for 25 impact plays.
Harold Joiner 2019:
Should Harold Joiner be utilized in the offense, in the same manner, Charles Clay was implemented at Tulsa, Joiner could be one of the leaders in impact plays this season. Clay ran vertical routes as Tulsa’s H-Back, often making plays downfield on seam routes and wheel routes. Malzahn frequently ran his offense with two-back sets, featuring Clay more as a receiver out of the backfield, though he ran the ball like a running back. Auburn showed this look only one time during A-Day, on Joey Gatewood’s first offensive series at quarterback. Malzahn at Tulsa would flood both backs out of the backfield on the same side of the field. The first back (often Charles Clay) would run a seam route and the second back would check down short. This often left one of the backs uncovered, making an easy read for the quarterback to throw to the wide open running back. With the success, Malzahn had with Charles Clay at Tulsa and Mario Fannin at Auburn, it is not a stretch to see him replicating it with Harold Joiner this season.