AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn running back C.J. Tolbert isn’t a name many expected in the mix for playing time this spring, but the unheralded walk-on is keeping pace in the competition at running back behind Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson.
“He’s a really gifted ball carrier,” Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton said of Tolbert.
Tolbert is competing for the third-string job alongside Malik Miller and Kam Martin. The junior had the strongest performance of the three backs during Auburn’s first scrimmage of the spring.
Horton decided to rest Pettway and limit Johnson’s carries to get a better look at the other running backs.
“It’s been a very good competition that will continue all the way until the opener,” Horton said.
Horton expects incoming freshman Devan Barrett to come in and jump into the competition this fall as well, a running back out of Tampa Catholic the coaching staff thinks highly of.
“He was the No. 1 running back on our board from the get-go, he was the one that we wanted,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said on national signing day.
One advantage Miller and Martin have is experience. While Miller’s season was cut short, they both played as true freshman.
Miller had 16 carries for 69 yards with a touchdown before he suffered a knee injury against ULM in Week 5, which sidelined him for the rest of the season.
Martin had 44 carries for 320 yards with three touchdowns, including a 176-yard breakout performance against Alabama A&M.
“It’s just the beginning,” Martin said of the breakout performance.
Horton wants to establish a pecking order but stressed the importance of additional depth behind the No. 3 running back.
Auburn had to turn to Rudy Ford last year in the Alabama A&M game when both Kamryn Pettway and Stanton Truitt had to sit out with injuries. Kerryon Johnson started the game but was questionable throughout the week.
“That was a tough month,” Horton said of last November. “If Kerryon wouldn’t have started against A&M, then Kam Martin would’ve had to start. A year earlier he would have been our ninth running back.”
It’s made the task of preparing the entire group of backs a top priority for Horton in case the team has similar injury issues in the fall.