Mississippi St Auburn Football

Auburn freshman running back D.J. Williams carries the ball during Auburn's win over Mississippi State on Sept. 28. Williams has taken some snaps with the first-team offense in practice as Auburn regroups with leading rusher JaTarvious Whitlow out with injury. 

D.J. Williams sent Auburn fans scrambling for their programs last spring, after a few flashy runs in the A-Day game.

Soon enough, he could be forcing plenty others around the SEC to look him up and learn his name.

Williams has been thrust under the microscope this week at Auburn football practice, in the days after JaTarvious Whitlow’s surgery, which has shelved Auburn’s leading rusher for four-to-six weeks per head coach Gus Malzahn. Shifty senior veteran Kam Martin and speedster sophomore Shaun Shivers are Auburn’s next most productive backs, but the four-star freshman Williams could figure into the rotation as soon as the Tigers return to the field at Arkansas on Oct. 19.

“This is a big week for him this week,” Malzahn said Tuesday. Yes, as the Tigers regroup and reassess on their bye, Williams has his chance to make a run at playing time at practice in Whitlow’s absence.

Malzahn said Williams rotated in with the first-team offense some Tuesday and that he’ll continue to see snaps there with the No. 1 group this week in practice.

Martin, Shivers and bruising back Malik Miller have the most in-game experience among the available Auburn running backs, but whereas Martin and Shivers are quick and Miller has been used in pass-blocking and goal-line situations, Williams more closely matches Whitlow’s size and that warrants for him a look from the Auburn coaches considering who’ll take snaps in certain every-down situations.

Williams rushed for 32 yards on seven carries in clean-up duty during Auburn’s blowout win over Mississippi State two weekends back. In his introduction to Auburn fans in April in the A-Day scrimmage, he rolled up 56 yards on 10 carries with the second-team offense.

“D.J. is a baller,” Martin said this week. “He’s ready to step up.”

Williams rushed for 1,000-plus yards and threw for 1,000-plus yards as a quarterback his senior year at Sebring High School in Florida. He was rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN and 247Sports and ranked as a three-star player by Rivals. He was one of Auburn’s eight early enrollees who joined the Tigers for spring practice. He was injured in the preseason but bolstered back to strength in time to take carries in the Mississippi State game, just before Whitlow went down with his injury from the Florida game.

That he starred as a quarterback in high school isn’t the only thing he shares in common with Whitlow, the hometown hero of LaFayette High School. Williams is listed at 5-foot-10 and 216 pounds on Auburn’s roster, comparable to Whitlow’s 6-foot, 210-pound listing. Shivers is listed at 179 pounds and Martin at 189 pounds while Miller is at 235 pounds.

Whitlow leads Auburn with 544 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 110 carries this season. Martin has posted 174 yards and two scores on 34 carries, while Shivers has rushed for 144 yards on 27 carries.

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