AUBURN, Alabama — From being a surprise signee late on National Signing Day in 2017, redshirt freshman JaTarvious “Boobee” Whitlow has put himself in a position to be Auburn’s starting running back entering the upcoming season.

The former high school quarterback was listed as a receiver on the Tigers’ roster this time last year, but after impressing coaches with the ball in his hands during practices for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and again throughoutspring practices, Whitlow is putting in time during preseason camp to take advantage of the hole remaining in Auburn’s backfield.

“He has really done a nice job of trying to spend extra time with the [graduate assistants] and studying the offense because when you put the ball in his hands, I think he can do a lot of good things,” offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. “But there are so many other plays he’s got to understand what’s going on and I think he’s improved there.”

Lindsey mentioned Whitlow’s willingness to improve in pass-protecting situations specifically, which is an area that has also raised concerns for fellow starting running back contender Kam Martin because of his size (5-foot-10, 193 pounds).

Martin has likewise developed as a pass-blocker this offseason, Lindsey said, but he was kept out of the Clemson game in 2017 and recorded only 42 carries in the team’s nine SEC games last season in part because of his inefficiencies protecting the quarterback.

Similar to Lindsey, head coach Gus Malzahn has noticed Whitlow’s constant efforts to develop in pass protection in order to find his way onto the field this season.

“He’s gotten better, and I think the thing about his urgency is it’s important to him,” Malzahn said. “You can really tell that he’s really urgent and wanting to play. If he makes a mistake, he’s not happy about it. That’s always a good sign.”

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Unlike Martin, Whitlow is not burdened by a smaller frame. He's listed at 6-foot, 216 pounds, but his weakness may lie more with being inexperienced in situations requiring pass-blocking.

“I think he’s leaned up some, but I think he’s still 215-plus pounds,” Lindsey said. “I think he’s trying everything he can do to put himself in a position to play a lot.”

The LaFayette High School product provides Auburn with a build resembling what it routinely requires at running back and has shown a wealth of play-making ability.

Whitlow broke a 70-yard touchdown run in the Tigers’ first scrimmage in the spring and rushed for 98 yards on 14 carries (a 7-yard average) in the A-Day spring game in April.

We should know more about Auburn’s competition at running back on Thursday when the team goes through its first scrimmage of preseason camp. Whitlow, Kam Martin and true freshman Asa Martin continue to be discussed as the leading candidates to earn the starting job for the season opener on Sept. 1 against Washington in Atlanta.