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Whitlow like a Pettway and Kerryon mix

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Auburn Football

Auburn's JaTarvious Whitlow a Pettway and Kerryon mix' at running back

Updated 7:00 AM; Posted 7:00 AM

By Tom Green

tgreen@al.com

A roar let out from within Auburn's indoor practice facility Thursday as players rushed to the goal line for team stretch.

The guttural scream came from redshirt freshman running back JaTarvious Whitlow. You'd be hard-pressed to find a player more amped for the start of spring practices than the 6-foot, 216-pounder, who had first season on the Plains was derailed by a preseason ankle injury but now finds himself in the mix for Auburn's vacant running back job.

"He's a good runner," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "We saw that before he got hurt in fall practice and he made a couple of really good runs and you know, he did good in the offseason here. I think he's got something to him, but I mean the rest of them, they do, too. The rest of them all have something to them, too. At the end of the spring I'm hoping we can have some kind of order."

Whitlow is one of five players in the mix for the Tigers' starting job in the backfield, and one of just two of that group who has yet to take a collegiate snap. Whitlow is competing with junior Kam Martin, who was the team's second-leading rusher last season behind Kerryon Johnson, as well as sophomore Devan Barrett, redshirt sophomore Malik Miller and true freshman Asa Martin for the lead role in Auburn's backfield.

How Auburn plans to sort out 'wide-open' RB competition

Auburn has five players vying for the No. 1 running back role this spring.

Whitlow, who played quarterback -- and several other positions -- in high school up the road in LaFayette, originally signed with Auburn last season as a wide receiver before making the move to running back in the offseason. Before he even had a chance to work his way onto the field, however, he sustained an ankle injury that sidelined him for the majority of the year and led to him redshirting in 2017.

Still, the former All-State performer and Class 2A Back of the Year impressed his teammates when healthy. He drew praise in particular for his showing during Auburn's bowl practices before the Peach Bowl, when he showcased his explosiveness and playmaking ability.

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"It's kind of like a (Kamryn) Pettway and Kerryon mix," H-back Chandler Cox said. "He's physical, he's fast, he can move. He's got kind of the shifty, kind of like what Kerryon does, but is more physical, like Pettway."

While Whitlow was still adjusting to the running back position last season, he has shown the ability to make plays in the open field. While a senior at LaFayette, he passed for 2,292 yards and 29 touchdowns while rushing for another 2,147 yards and 30 scores.

"Just watching him in fall practice was really the eye opener for all of us, just running, scoring a lot," Cox said.

Freshman Whitlow a 'surprise' during Auburn's bowl prep

JaTarvious Whitlow redshirted this season as a freshman but has turned heads during Auburn's Peach Bowl practices.

Now, for the first time since he arrived on campus, he'll have a real opportunity to compete for playing time. Auburn knows what it has in Kam Martin and, to an extent, Miller and Barrett, both of whom had limited roles last season. Asa Martin, meanwhile, is the reigning Alabama Mr. Football and has drawn early comparisons to Johnson.

Whitlow could very well be the dark horse candidate of the group.

"All of them right now, have a legitimate shot to try to be in the next," Malzahn said. "He's one of those guys."

Auburn will be more physical with its running backs this spring than it has been in the past--a means of sorting the group and allowing for ample competition for someone to rise to the top. Malzahn and running backs coach want to see who can separate from the pack and, of course, who can step up in pass protection.

One thing, at least, seems apparent from the first days of spring: Whitlow is eager for the opportunity to make a push for playing time after watching from the sideline last year.

"He's in my group for the mat drills and I'm usually the one yelling and screaming -- that's why my voice is always kind of gone -- but he was the one yelling and screaming this year with me," Cox said. "I love that because it takes a second voice to help other guys keep going. He's trying to be a leader, too, and that's what I really like. And I told him, 'Don't be afraid to lead.' He can be a leader no matter how old he is. He's a redshirt freshman. He's just been terrific."

 

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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Whitlow developing into a leader as a RS Freshman could be much needed on our team and something we haven’t had in a long time. 

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This will be the most intriguing aspect of Spring practice, at least for me.

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Geez...I really don't know who will win the job....hope it doesn't stretch for too long though.

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2 minutes ago, WFE12 said:

Geez...I really don't know who will win the job....hope it doesn't stretch for too long though.

I hope nobody wins and it is a true RB by committee.  I want all 6 to thrive next year.

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1 minute ago, LKEEL75 said:

I hope nobody wins and it is a true RB by committee.  I want all 6 to thrive next year.

Yes that would be nice. I've been harping on us running two rb sets. It's like a must at this point...Hate to compare us with UGA but what they did with Chubb and Michel we can do too.

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1 hour ago, WFE12 said:

Yes that would be nice. I've been harping on us running two rb sets. It's like a must at this point...Hate to compare us with UGA but what they did with Chubb and Michel we can do too.

Agree 100%!  Imagine the confusion on the D triple option with a blocker.  Stidham in shotgun, RB to either side and WR comes in motion.  You have

Option 1) Handoff to WR

Option 2) Handoff to either RB going different directions with different lead blockers

Option 3) fake both handoffs and roll out for a pass play using 2 RBs as blockers.

Man what fun it would be to sit around and design plays for this kind of talent.

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We have had 11 players rush for 1000 yards since Gus joined us in 2009. 

A real RB by committee isn't going to happen, not for a whole season. 

It will most likely be a by committee approach for the first 3 or 4 games until Gus finds his next workhorse... that is if the past is any indication. 

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18 hours ago, LKEEL75 said:

I hope nobody wins and it is a true RB by committee.  I want all 6 to thrive next year.

I want at least 3 on that committee.

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While I agree looking at the past we always end up with a workhorse. But just like Gus learned in the LSU game that you can't take your foot off the gas, late season injuries to KJ at the wrong time should make him realize you need to have others ready to play. You can't be ready to play unless you get snaps in a real game. I expect us to have a number 1 back but I would not be surprised to see number 1 getting less carries than in the past as we develop a couple of backup RB's.

I don't want a huge difference in play calling when a different back comes in. Last year every time Barrett came in you knew what play we were going to run.  I am hoping Chip is in Gus's ear and the KJ injuries when we needed him at close to 100% down the stretch will make Gus realize we can be more like Georgia.

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A work horse is fine.  It's good to have a Bo, or Brent, or Bostic etc.

It's just also good to have 1 or 2 capable backups to spell him or start, if necessary (see SECCG).

Heck, in '84 Dye had PLENTY backups who played very admirably in Bo's extended absence that year.

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1 hour ago, AuburnNTexas said:

While I agree looking at the past we always end up with a workhorse. But just like Gus learned in the LSU game that you can't take your foot off the gas, late season injuries to KJ at the wrong time should make him realize you need to have others ready to play. You can't be ready to play unless you get snaps in a real game. I expect us to have a number 1 back but I would not be surprised to see number 1 getting less carries than in the past as we develop a couple of backup RB's.

I don't want a huge difference in play calling when a different back comes in. Last year every time Barrett came in you knew what play we were going to run.  I am hoping Chip is in Gus's ear and the KJ injuries when we needed him at close to 100% down the stretch will make Gus realize we can be more like Georgia.

Several folks around here like to puff out their chests and talk about how KJ led the conference in rushing yards, but they never want to talk about the fact that he was 14th in YPC.  He carried the ball 24 times a game last year. That includes the SECCG, when he only carried it 13 times. (Saquon Barkley carried it 17 times a game. Nick Chubb carried it 15 times a game.)

Give even just 4 carries per game to other guys, that's 48 carries on the season. (KJ missed 2 games.) Malik Miller and Devan Barrett had 48 carries combined in 2017. No other RB had more than 76, or 5 carries a game.

Put another way, for games that KJ played in, he carried it 24 times a game compared to 15 for all other RBs combined plus Stove (30 carries on the season) and Cox. Sure would be nice to see those two numbers meet in the middle.

Edited by McLoofus
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20 hours ago, ClaytonAU said:

Whitlow developing into a leader as a RS Freshman could be much needed on our team and something we haven’t had in a long time. 

Told Gus and Chip have been rotating all the RB's a lot. Hard to tell who is the one they like the best. 

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24 minutes ago, WarDamnEagleWDE said:

Told Gus and Chip have been rotating all the RB's a lot. Hard to tell who is the one they like the best. 

That either a really good thing or a really scary thing

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58 minutes ago, McLoofus said:

ut another way, for games that KJ played in, he carried it 24 times a game compared to 15 for all other RBs combined plus Stove (30 carries on the season) and Cox. Sure would be nice to see those two numbers meet in the middle.

Is there some reason to believe that if KJ had carried the ball fewer times and the other guys had carried it more that the team would have gained more yards or scored more TDs or won more games?    JMO but when KJ was not in the game, there were usually more problems in the running game and the passing game.

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4 minutes ago, AU64 said:

Is there some reason to believe that if KJ had carried the ball fewer times and the other guys had carried it more that the team would have gained more yards or scored more TDs or won more games?    JMO but when KJ was not in the game, there were usually more problems in the running game and the passing game.

Not Loof but as much as anything it's a wear & tear issue more than a numbers issue.  KJ was never a tremendously durable back while at Auburn and spreading the work load simply makes sense.

I think Mason's freakishly amazing durablility spoiled Gus.  Even the relatively huge Pettway wasn't the most durable.

It just makes sense that if you have capable bodies, play them.  If only to save your top guy's body.  It's a long, grueling season.... especially against SEC defenses.

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12 minutes ago, AU64 said:

  JMO but when KJ was not in the game, there were usually more problems in the running game and the passing game.

I'll give you the passing game, but when KMart was in the game he had a 6.1 ypc avg. (74/453). That is far from struggling. There was no reason he couldn't have spelled KJ more often. 

To me, having to defend runners with multiple styles is much more difficult and in turn make one's offense much more dynamic.  Last year we rarely had impact plays from the run game. KMart was the only back we had that had the potential to change that and, IMO, we wasted it.

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1 minute ago, WarDamnEagleWDE said:

I think its a good thing. 

I think so too.  I think the way UGA wore us down and beat us down made Gus kind of reevaluate things...well, I hope so.

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32 minutes ago, AU64 said:

Is there some reason to believe that if KJ had carried the ball fewer times and the other guys had carried it more that the team would have gained more yards or scored more TDs or won more games?    JMO but when KJ was not in the game, there were usually more problems in the running game and the passing game.

No. No reason to believe our offense could have been any better. It was literally perfect. Gus has never made a poor decision. What was I thinking.

You've read and participated in all these conversations before. You know the repeatedly offered rationale for spreading the carries around. 

I'm looking forward to the RB battle. I hope that it results in a different look than we saw last season. 

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58 minutes ago, AU64 said:

Is there some reason to believe that if KJ had carried the ball fewer times and the other guys had carried it more that the team would have gained more yards or scored more TDs or won more games?    JMO but when KJ was not in the game, there were usually more problems in the running game and the passing game.

Also: 

If only there were a way to get guys able to better execute football plays. Unfortunately, live game experience doesn't matter and you just have to hope you get it done in the film room. 

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41 minutes ago, McLoofus said:

Also: 

If only there were a way to get guys able to better execute football plays. Unfortunately, live game experience doesn't matter and you just have to hope you get it done in the film room. 

I detect sarcasm.

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6 minutes ago, jAUSon said:

I detect sarcasm.

you think?

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1 minute ago, AUld fAUx@ said:

you think?

yeah. I, too, detect the sarcasm.

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1 hour ago, bigbird said:

I think so too.  I think the way UGA wore us down and beat us down made Gus kind of reevaluate things...well, I hope so.

Looked at the stats...both teams ran about 60 plays total ......and Chubb was leading carrier with 13 and KJ had the same number.....did not look like anyone got worn down or overworked....both defenses were good.   For the season Chubb had quite a few more carries than Michel. 

But....if we have two backs of equal capability then splitting the time is fine but no way that Martin was near KJ running or blocking last year.  JMO.  

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