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Sep 21, 2017
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  Football Preview: Running Backs and Offensive Line

If there’s one position Auburn fans will not debate this summer, it’s running backs. The Tigers return two sure-fire runners in Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson, but who will be blocking for those two is a little more of a conversation.

By “a little more conversation,” the key words are “a little.” The offensive line returns three of five positions for a group that paved the way for the Tigers to average 271.3 rushing yards per game.

Returning starters include Darius James at left tackle, center Austin Golson and Braden Smith.

And though that’s a strong group of experience, it’s expected to get only stronger. Golson’s move to center last year was new, and now he has a year under his belt. Smith has been discussed at right guard or tackle, making him a great utility option. And James was thrown into the fire last year and started only the last nine games. Now with that experience, he can use it moving forward.

The question of who will start at left guard and right tackle could be interesting. For starters, there is the chance Smith moves to right guard. If not, senior Deon Mix and sophomore Prince Sammons have been discussed to fill the gap. If Smith does move back to tackle, sophomores Mike Horton and Bailey Sharp are expected to battle for the position.

At left guard, sophomore Marquel Harrell backed up Alex Kozan in 2016. It’d be an easy assumption he would slide into the role for this year. Other options are sophomore Tyler Carr and true freshman Nick Brahms. A potential darkhorse for the job is Horton.

While O line coach Herb Hand works on getting things aligned in the trenches, running back coach Tim Horton has a group returning that most coaches dream about.

Pettway finished fifth in the SEC last year with 1,240 yards. They came on 209 carries and he added seven touchdowns. And though it was an impressive season, Pettway’s potential was higher than his number considering he missed three games because of injury.

Injuries were an issue for Johnson, as well. He led the team with 11 touchdowns in 12 games, rushing for 919 yards on 182 carries. Johnson opened the season as the starting RB because an early-season injury proved Pettway with the carries to become a star.

New offensive coordinator Chip Lindsay has several other running backs that should have several opportunities this fall to get some work. Kam Martin showed flashes of good runs last year, recording 320 yards on 46 carries, adding three scores. Malik Miller is another young name who should get touches this fall. He rushed for 74 yards on 16 carries in three games last year before suffering a season-ending injury.

The Tigers have spots to fill on the line and need to avoid the injury bug in the backfield, but these groups are strong and filled with optimism heading into the fall. They should both be fun to watch.

Brandon Miller

Quarterbacks and Receivers

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