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Auburn's Kamryn Pettway embracing move to H-back

AUBURN, Ala.Kamryn Pettway came to Auburn with aspirations of playing running back. Though he wasn't the biggest name the Tigers signed in 2014 — that honor went to fellow running back Roc Thomas, the five-star prospect who had been named Alabama's Mr. Football as a senior — Pettway was determined to make a name for himself. That didn't happen last season, as he redshirted.

Once the Tigers began practicing for the Outback Bowl in December, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee announced the Tigers had moved Pettway from running back to H-back. At the time, Lashlee deemed it an experiment. But prior to Auburn's first practice this spring, coach Gus Malzahn said Pettway would be a "full-time" H-back.

Pettway has embraced the change.

"It’s been a great transition," he said last month. "Right now, I’m just learning the plays and working my hardest at it. ... It wasn't tough (to move) at all. I just figured it was the best way to get on the field and I went for it."

Though he reported to fall camp last year weighing 220 pounds, Pettway said last time he stepped on a scale, he came in at 245. The weight he's gained should serve him well in his new role, where his primary responsibility will be taking on defenders to clear the way for his backfield mates.

"I think I block well at the H-back position. I think I have to learn the technique more and just get my technique down," he said. "It feels pretty natural playing H-back. It feels like running back, just blocking more."

And that's exactly the way the coaching staff views him.

"He has running back skills. He can also do some running back, but we're going to give him a chance to win (the H-back) job and he did catch our eye in bowl practice," Malzahn said. "It's something he is excited about. We really feel like he gives us a lot of versatility at that position. He catches the ball well ... and he is very big and very physical."

Lashlee echoed Malzahn, saying he didn't think it would take Pettway much time to acclimate to his new spot. Besides, the Tigers already had experience converting a running back to an H-back, with Lashlee pointing to Eric Smith as a player who pulled off the move flawlessly.

"Sometimes you get bigger backs, the more short-yardage type backs that have the size and the physicality to do it," he said. "I don't know if it's easier, but we've had success with it. ... Kamryn is so athletic. For a big guy, he's very athletic. He's light on his feet. He's very physical and I think he's got a chance to really help us there."

While he's also getting reps at tight end, Pettway's main focus is on cementing himself at H-back. To do that, he'll have to beat out early enrollee Chandler Cox.

"He’s going to push me a lot to get the best out of me," Pettway said. "He’s a great athlete. He can catch the ball well. He’s pretty quick. He’s a little physical also."

The natural "running back skills" Malzahn lauded notwithstanding, H-back isn't a position where Pettway will be expected to touch the ball often. Last season, Brandon Fulse and C.J. Uzomah — who split time alternating between H-back and tight end — combined for one carry. In 2013, H-back extraordinaire Jay Prosch didn't register a single rushing attempt.

Pettway is undaunted. Perhaps even better, he isn't bothered by it.

"I’m all right with not getting a lot of carries," he said. "It’s just whatever helps the team out."

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