AUBURN, Ala. – As the season opener inches closer, Auburn has been gradually tying up loose ends on its offense. With Sean White named starting quarterback earlier this week, the rest of the offense finally has a chosen leader to rally around.
But as Auburn’s projected starting running back, sophomore Kerryon Johnson should also play a big role in the team’s offensive successes as well this season.
Ranked as the No. 2 “athlete” in the 2015 recruiting class by 247Sports Composite, Johnson played in all 13 games as a true freshman last season, positioned behind the likes of running backs Peyton Barber, Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson. However, the latter three slowly departed from Auburn’s program over the course of the offseason: Barber left to pursue the NFL, Thomas transferred to Jacksonville State and Robinson was dismissed on the premise of behavioral issues outside of football.
That left just Johnson as the team’s only returning running back with experience to likely carry the starting load, but he said he’s ready to take that challenge.
“(I have) a lot bigger playbook to learn, that’s for sure,” Johnson said. “I think just from last year to this year, I have a lot more confidence in myself. The game is moving slower in terms of reading, pass blocking and I just feel like I’m a much smarter player, a much more patient player and I have a feel for what’s going on no matter what now.”
Known for his exceptional speed, Johnson, who had 753 total yards last season as a rusher, receiver and returner, said he hasn’t gotten any slower this offseason, and his workouts have improved his durability as a player.
“(My exercise) has helped me a lot in terms of breaking tackles, falling forward to gain that extra one or two yards,” Johnson said. “I haven’t gotten any slower, but just in terms of being a more physical player and being able to take a bigger beating, it’s definitely helped.”
Speed is necessary on the Tigers' offense to keep up with Malzahn’s staple hurry-up style – something Johnson and the team hope to improve on this year.
“The pace is going to be the same either way,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter who’s on the field player wise, as long as Gus Malzahn is the head coach, the pace is going to be the same. So no matter who’s out there, he’s going to want to go fast and it’s just up to us to keep up.
“We kind of slowed down last year, and that’s something that (Malzahn) made a big point this year to get back to. We’ve got to get back to going fast more consistently. So we’ve been practicing very fast, and now … it’s up to us to actually go fast, to get our correct calls down and be able to play.”
As far as his mindset goes, his head and physical fitness seem to be in the same place, even after the negativity surrounding Robinson’s dismissal.
“I’ve prepared every day like this for the past 18 years of my life,” Johnson said. “I come in, I go to work, I leave. That’s what I do. I feel like we have a lot of people on the team that do that, so that was an unfortunate event obviously, but it didn’t change my mind at all.”
In fact, there’s only room for one thing on Johnson’s mind going into the 2016 season.
“Win. That’s all that’s going to go through my mind,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to win. We’ve got to win more than we did last year, and I think we will.”
(Lauren Christopher covers Auburn for GN. You can follow him on Twitter @laurchristopher)
© 2016, Lauren Christopher. All rights reserved.
© 2016, gridironnow.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.