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Auburn coach Gus Malzahn vigorously defends depth at running back

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn watches his players during practice.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn watches his players during practice. Auburn Athletics

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn shot back at suggestions his offense lacks depth at the running back position in the wake of Roc Thomas’ decision to transfer.

Malzahn isn’t considering adding a graduate transfer in the backfield and laughed when asked about trying out safety Rudy Ford at the position.

“I don’t know what you are trying to get at,” Malzahn said when pressed on the issue at the SEC Meetings in Destin. “I feel good about the tailback position.”

The most drastic measure Malzahn might consider is moving fullback Kamryn Pettway to tailback full-time, but the decision to use the sophomore in a dual-role preceded Tuesday’s news that Thomas is leaving the program.

“There’s no doubt, that’s what he played in high school, we had numerous conversations before the spring about him playing some tailback,” Malzahn said of Pettway.

Pettway and Chandler Cox practiced and played well at the position during spring camp. Malzahn said Pettway has a chance to be a really good running back in college if given the opportunity.

While Auburn’s backfield battled a number of minor injuries last year, Malzahn is confident expected starter Jovon Robinson and likely backup Kerryon Johnson can stay healthy in the fall. Johnson sat out spring camp after surgery on his shoulder.

“We feel very confident about Jovon Robinson staying healthy, Kerryon Johnson has chance to be impact player,” Malzahn said.

Robinson and Thomas both suffered injures in Auburn’s season-opener against Louisville. Robinson found his way back on the field when Peyton Barber was slowed with a hamstring injury midway through the season. Thomas never found a consistent role with the offense and spent the spring competing with Robinson for the top spot on the depth chart.

Malzahn didn’t spend much time expanding on the statement he released Tuesday regarding Thomas, but didn’t attribute his decision to leave to an playing time issue.

“I think he wants to get closer to home,” Malzahn said. “I think he has a chance to play for former high school coach (Jacksonville State coach John Grass). We wish him nothing but the best.”