Jovon Robinson fell 81 yards short of his immodest goal during Saturday’s A-Day game.

The scrimmage represented an inauspicious start for the running back who waited so long to take the field in an Auburn uniform inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Roc Thomas, not Robinson, led all backs, spinning and gliding his way to 69 rushing yards and one long, impressive touchdown run down the right side of the field. After failing to qualify academically as a 2012 signee — it became known that a counselor altered one of his high school grades — Robinson managed just 19 yards on six carries.

To borrow from poker parlance, the biggest tell from the Tigers’ spring game can’t be excavated from the final stats: the 6-foot-1, 232-pound junior-college transfer took the symbolic first handoff from the yet-to-be-named starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson.

In each of the last two seasons, Auburn entered fall practice without a clear-cut No. 1 running back. But early in the schedule, Tre Mason and then Cameron Artis-Payne emerged as the alpha player in the backfield. Each of them led the conference in rushing.

Given the propensity of college football coaches to treat every tidbit of relevant information as if revealing it could be the equivalent of treason, as if tipping off a starter at a sexy position equates to handing over nuclear warhead codes to communist Russia, we won’t yet ascertain whether Robinson is this year’s leading man, if there is to be one at all. Thomas and Peyton Barber should compete with him for pecking order slots through fall camp.

Robinson, though, fits the Mason/Artis-Payne mold closer than either of his counterparts. Coach Gus Malzahn recently admitted Robinson is “a very football-savvy guy.” Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee acknowledged that in spite of the often over-inflated hype associated with top signees, Robinson has “just blended right in.”

Then there’s running backs coach Tim Horton, who called Robinson a gym rat and compared him to Artis-Payne and former Arkansas standout Peyton Hillis.

“Cameron Artis-Payne spent a great deal of time trying to perfect his craft, trying to learn his trade, and Jovon’s the same way,” Horton said, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

“He’s really picked it up and done well. He’s certainly not there yet; but in terms of the work ethic, the attitude, the willingness to prepare and do the things you need to do to play, Jovon’s been really good at that just like Cam was.”

Thomas, at 5-foot-10, 203 pounds, loves to juke, spin and rely on his straight-line speed. Often he gets pigeonholed as a change-of-pace back. But Thomas did a better job Saturday of occasionally taking on would-be tacklers by lowering his shoulder and welcoming contact.

But Robinson, though he’s playing catch-up learning what he calls Malzahn’s “detail-oriented offense,” busted a long touchdown run of his own during the second scrimmage. Perhaps more importantly, he’s proven an adept pass-catcher who also possesses the bulk and physicality to challenge pass rushers with force when he’s asked to help protect Johnson.

Auburn’s running backs didn’t give up a single sack last season. And according to a recent story, the coaches have identified Robinson as the best of the three contenders in pass protection, as long as he knows his assignment.

Back to Horton, the running backs coach. Check out these three recent quotes, look up the definition of “smitten,” and then come back.

  1. “Sometimes that 215-pound back runs like a 175-pound back. He runs like a 232-pound player. The thing Jovon does a really nice job of is that he runs with a really good pad level.”
  2. “Jovon’s got really good hands, I mean terrific hands. His hands, to be honest, have been better than I thought they were.”
  3. “It’s not a lot of fun to tackle him.”

The competition will linger into the fall. Thomas won the day Saturday. But if Robinson’s ability to absorb the playbook and get comfortable with his teammates doesn’t stall at random this summer, he should be prepared to take control of the backfield as Auburn’s No. 1 rushing option by the Sept. 5 opener against Louisville.