AUBURN, Ala. — Anthony Morgan was out of his element, an offensive player on the other side of the ball, trying to help an Auburn defense with an alarming lack of cornerback options.
Now back at running back, the junior recalled the experience, struggling for a polite way of giving himself a grade on defense.
“Uh I It’s not good,” he said with a laugh. “I worked at it and I tried my best. That’s all I could do.”
In his two-plus years on the Plains, Morgan has gone through about as many positions as he has names. The former Anthony Gulley, who went by Gulley-Morgan before simply Morgan, has been, in coach Gene Chizik’s words, “a journeyman,” spending time at punt returner, wide receiver, running back and cornerback since he arrived in 2009.
Now he is a running back, where beyond workhorse Mike Dyer and speedster Onterio McCalebb, the Tigers have few reliable options, especially with pass-catchers Mario Fannin and Eric Smith no longer around.
“He gives us a lot of flexibility,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “We can move him around. He’s a really good runner, especially in open space, and he catches the ball very well out of the backfield.”
Morgan has a history of carrying the ball. He played running back his entire career at Brantley (Ala.) High, running for 1,162 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior.
Given a taste of the position as a freshman against Furman in 2009, he showed great burst and instincts, running for 77 yards on five carries and scoring on touchdown runs of 13 and 50 yards.
“He’s talented,” running backs coach Curtis Luper said.
“He’s fast, he’s smart, he’s tough. He just has to learn to play the position. He hasn’t played it. For him, it’s just matter of getting comfortable with the offense, the system. I’m expecting big things from him.”
It will take some adjusting. Despite breaking out against Furman, Auburn moved him to defense late in 2009. Injuries ravaged the Tigers’ defensive backfield and Morgan, who dabbled at punt returner and wide receiver but had no major role, was a logical choice to step in as an emergency corner.
He never felt comfortable.
“I just didn’t have the fundamentals,” he said. “Nobody sat down in high school and taught me the fundamentals of playing cornerback. All I did was playing running back.”
That’s why last December was music to his ears. Coaches approached him in December about a position switch as the team prepared for the BCS title game. He got his chance in the “Toilet Bowl,” a name players give to a bowl scrimmage for redshirts, walk-ons and backups. He looked good enough for coaches to keep him at running back.
“I told him I feel like he’s in the best spot since he’s been here to help us,” Chizik said. “I feel like he feels at home there.”
Morgan has bulked up for the job. He is only 5-foot-9 but is at 195 pounds, 20 more than when he arrived at Auburn. He also said he is faster, but the physical side won’t be the biggest adjustment.
“He just has to learn our offense and learn the reads,” Luper said. “And everything is expedited because it’s no-huddle. He doesn’t have time to process everything just yet. So I really can’t see what he can do until he gets comfortable, and then he can let his natural ability take over. But I think he’ll be pretty good.”