Editor’s note: T-minus 14 days and counting until Auburn opens the season against Clemson on Sept. 3 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Check back every morning as we break down the roster, profile key players and look at unanswered questions coming out of training camp.
Auburn true freshmen Malik Miller and Kam Martin are competing for playing time at running back in fall camp. Miller is the known quantity of the pair coming out of Madison Academy in Alabama.
The running back verbally committed to Auburn the summer before his senior year and was one of the team’s nine early enrollees in January.
Miller didn’t stand out during a spring that ended with an injury on A-Day, but he used the disappointing start as motivation.
“Malik has been one of or more improved guys from spring to fall,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He's leaner. He is faster. The physical part of the game, he enjoys, and that's always important for young guys.”
Miller could be a steady contributor this fall like his former Madison Academy teammate Kerryon Johnson was last year in a similar position. The running back spent much of training camp repping with the second team offense.
With Auburn coaches looking for a spark, Martin might be the more intriguing freshman talent in the Tigers’ backfield.
The former Baylor signee fell into Auburn’s hands when he was allowed out of his letter intent this summer. Martin reached out to Auburn’s staff, who he developed a strong relationship with during the 2016 recruiting cycle, after Baylor coach Art Briles was fired.
The running back’s gaudy high school resume — 3,500-plus total yards and 44 touchdowns — and his sub 4.4 speed made him a highly coveted offensive weapon.
Martin’s late arrival put him behind his fellow freshmen teammates, but he’s doing his best to make up for lost time.
“He’s a tough guy,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “That’s what stood out to me. He’s got courage. Backs protect in this league and it’s not easy. He’s stepped up and put his face in there. That was encouraging.”
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton went even further in praising Martin’s quickness, acceleration and ball skills.
“I don't think there's any question he'll play, he'll contribute and he'll have an important role on the team,” Horton said.
Coaches are going to be patient with Martin even if the back isn’t ready to make an immediate impact week one. Martin has all the potential of a special playmaker who could earn a spot in the rotation a few weeks into the season.
"Lot of potential,” Auburn fullback Chandler Cox said. “I watched Kam at practice today and he has a lot of speed and that's something we need. We're kind of a big group with 230-plus pound guys and with losing Roc, he was our speed guy. Kam Martin has that speed. He has a lot of potential and big things coming in the future."
Stat of the day
Sixteen true freshman running backs have crossed the 1,000-yard mark in the last five years. Five of the backs — Nick Chubb (Georgia), Leonard Fournette (LSU), Alex Collins (Arkansas), Toddy Gurley (Georgia) and T.J. Yeldon (Alabama) — have come out of the SEC.