In dismissing Jovon Robinson, Gus Malzahn warms up own coaching seat
For the second consecutive season, Auburn has dismissed its premier skill-position contributor on offense.
In what can only be described as an out-of-nowhere decision, Tigers coach Gus Malzahn announced after the first session of fall practice Wednesday that running back Jovon Robinson was no longer part of the squad.
Robinson ran 117 times for 639 yards and 3 touchdowns in a reserve role this past year, as his yards-per-carry average (5.5) dwarfed that of starter Peyton Barber (4.3). With Barber somewhat unexpectedly exiting The Plains following his junior campaign for a shot at the NFL, Robinson was firmly atop the depth chart.
Last season, receiver D’haquille Williams was kicked off the team, most notably for an infamous bar fight.
To say that Auburn is now thin at the tailback position is an understatement. The presumed secondary ball carrier, Roc Thomas, announced his plan to transfer in May. Kerryon Johnson is just a complementary piece.
Malzahn told reporters that Robinson “did not meet (his) standards” and proclaimed that “there’s going to be no distractions” this season for the Tigers. ESPN’s Brett McMurphy later reported that Robinson’s “continued inattention to detail in everything” included the 6-foot-1, 219-pounder missing classes and team meetings.
Malzahn, who comes into 2016 with his seat already a bit warm, has to be feeling even more uncomfortable.
Last month at SEC Media Days, Malzahn talked about needing to get back to not just running the football, but running it with pace. That’s what made Nick Marshall, Tre Mason and Co. so electric a few years ago.
It’s difficult to imagine Auburn being able to do so now. Malzahn (below) did sign a pair of running backs in his most recent recruiting class, but four-star signee Kameron Martin is more of an all-purpose back at 178 pounds. The other freshman, Malik Miller, was only a three-star prep prospect. However, he’s a sturdy 229.
Making matters worse, the Tigers have one of the cloudiest quarterback situations in the whole conference.
The two passers who shared the starting job a season ago, Jeremy Johnson and Sean White, are still in the mix. Johnson fell on his face despite a lot of hype, while White isn’t an ideal fit for the system.
Auburn fans are hopeful that John Franklin III is the answer to their prayers at the game’s most important position. Originally signing with Florida State, he bounced back and forth between QB and receiver during his time in Tallahassee. After a year in junior college, he has the speed to perhaps be another Marshall.
Remember, Marshall began as a cornerback at Georgia. Malzahn’s scheme morphed him into a dual-threat star.
Simply expecting Franklin and Robinson to be another version of Marshall and Mason was far from realistic, though. That was Year 1 for Malzahn as a head coach, when his fast-and-furious offense surprised everyone.
The Tigers didn’t run the ball particularly well in 2015, even with Barber posting 1,106 yards and 13 TDs. Despite finishing fifth in the league with 196.3 yards per game on the ground, Malzahn’s runners managed a yards-per-carry average of 4.3, which tied for 10th. Lack of a passing game led to too many stacked boxes.
The offensive line featured a lot of talent. Perhaps Auburn’s enemies have caught up to Malzahn’s madness.
Whomever ends up taking the snap from center this season, he won’t be elevated by a star-studded receiving corps. Williams (below), Ricardo Louis and Melvin Ray, who were the only legitimate threats last year, all exited.
While he may be a senior leader in 2016, Marcus Davis caught 30 balls for a measly 182 yards and a single touchdown his junior campaign. Jason Smith and Tony Stevens, both expected to see significant playing time at wideout, combined for just 27 receptions last season. Nate Craig-Myers is gifted, but he’s a freshman.
The defense is also a question mark. Three coordinators in four years under Malzahn is suspect.
Fortunately, the offensive line is anchored by preseason All-SEC picks Alex Kozan and Braden Smith. At the very least, there should be holes to run through and time to throw. But who will be running? And throwing?
Robinson was supposed to be the one sure thing offensively. He was given a bigger role down the stretch a season ago, even with Barber eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark. It was Robinson, not Barber, who was awarded MVP honors of the Birmingham Bowl after a 126-yard performance.
During preparations for the upcoming season, Malzahn listened to his players while searching for a motto.
“Our theme this year is ‘earn it.’ Our players came up with that,” he said at Media Days. “Earn your teammates’ respect, your coaches’ respect. Earn it every day on and off the field, and our guys have done that in the offseason.”
Apparently, something changed these past few weeks. Robinson lost the respect of teammates and coaches. Based on the chatter at Auburn, Jovon Robinson was only concerned with earning Jovon Robinson’s respect.
Yes, Malzahn has made quite a statement by saying goodbye to the bell cow of his run-heavy team. It’s fair to assume that he wanted to rid himself of a potential distraction and me-first player in the locker room. But all he did was flip one distraction for another. Now his job status has been moved to the front burner.
Marshall isn’t walking through that door. Neither is Mason. Malzahn might be walking out that door soon.