- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor’s note: This is part four in a weeklong series looking at five Auburn players to watch this spring.
AUBURN, Ala. -- It’s not often that a player makes a tackle and runs for a touchdown in the same game, but that’s exactly what freshman Johnathan Ford did in Auburn’s 62-3 rout over Western Carolina back in October.
When Ford arrived at Auburn, he was tabbed as a running back. That’s the position he wanted to play, and that’s where the coaches were going to put him. However, in the middle of fall camp, he was moved to cornerback because of an injury to Jonathan Jones and an overall lack of depth in the secondary.
It wasn’t a completely new position for Ford. In fact, a number of college coaches, including new Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, an assistant at Alabama at the time, felt that the three-star prospect projected better as a cornerback at the next level.
They were right. Ford embraced his new role and quickly ascended up the depth chart. By the middle of the season, he was listed on the two-deep depth chart and wound up participating in 13 of Auburn’s 14 games. Two months earlier, he was looking at a possible redshirt had he stayed at running back.
The coaches didn’t forget about his former position, though. He still took reps at running back in practice, and against Western Carolina, he broke loose for a 38-yard touchdown on the second run of his career. He finished the game with two carries for 45 yards.
“I think you can see he’s a phenomenal player,” head coach Gus Malzahn said afterwards. “We moved him to corner this year, and we’ll see after the year what happens. The fact that we have three experienced backs obviously has something to do with that, but he’s a threat, no doubt.”
As Ford enters his second season, the big question is whether he stays on defense or moves back to his original position. There’s an obvious need at cornerback this spring with Chris Davis gone, and the top signees not arriving until the summer. But there’s no clear cut favorite at running back either with Tre Mason leaving early for the NFL.
The more likely scenario is that he stays at cornerback and battles Jones for the starting role opposite Jonathon Mincy, but don’t be surprised if he still takes some reps at running back this spring.
Where does Ford want to play?
“It doesn’t matter,” he said this past season. “I just want to help the team as much as I can this year. That comes first. Everything else is just a bonus.”
With that kind of attitude, the coaches will find a role for him somewhere. He’s too talented and too versatile not to make an impact for the Tigers this fall.
3dCFB Vegas Experts
1dSam Khan Jr. and Derek Tyson
2dMark Schlabach and Brett McMurphy