June 17, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN — The man who will help choose Auburn's starting running back this fall says the race for that job remains wide open this summer.
New running back coach Tim Horton says it will be an on-going competition when fall practice begins between 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason, junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, who has made a positive move with the new coaching staff.
"It's really going to be fun and interesting," Horton said "We've got three guys who went through spring practice that, to be me, none of them really separated themselves from each other. Cameron Artis-Payne had a really good spring. He was the only one that went through all 15 days of spring practice.
Corey Grant went through 11 good days of spring practice, and then he got sick and got mono and had to go in the hospital for week and didn't play in the spring game. He did really well the first 11 days.
"And Tre was bothered by an ankle injury, so I don't know if any of them really said, 'Hey, I'm going to be the guy.' But I have three I really feel good about. And I like the guys coming in: I think Johnathan Ford and Peyton Barber can contribute in time."
Mason would be the logical front-runner after a 1,000-yard season, but Horton said, "He's going to have to come out and prove it."
Grant may have options. He could be a true straight-ahead tailback or assume the speed-sweep role of departed Onterio McCalebb.
"There are several candidates, but I think he's the one who will probably get the first look," Horton said. Corey Grant is as fine a kid and a fine worker. We hate to play favorites, and we won't, but he epitomizes everything you want in a young man. He's a good student and has great work ethic and practice effort. You want to see kids like Corey Grant have success."
Grant could also play some at slot receiver. "You'll see a little bit more of that in two-a-days," Horton said.
There's always something going on in Gus Mazlahn's offense, but Horton says many of the running plays Auburn will run are basic to the game. The real twist, he says, he running them in Malzahn's fast-paced offense.
"We have about four base runs, and those are the four base runs that we ran when I was at Kansas State and other places. It's not that different," Horton said. "The thing that is different is the tempo you run it in and the tempo you practice in. I've never seen anything like it.
"It's funny because you practice so fast, and then you'd get to a scrimmage on Saturday with officials and it's like, 'Hurry up. Pick up the tempo, officials, and get the ball placed.' Practice is really much, much harder; and much, much faster, than games are."
Horton, who built a reputation as a front-line running backs coach, came to Auburn as tight ends coach. That didn't last long, not after Rich Bisaccia left the Auburn staff within weeks to take a job with the Dallas Cowboys. Horton was switched to running backs coach after that, where he coached for 12 seasons and where enjoyed success at Arkansas.
That means he was on the other sidelines when he watched Auburn struggle last season.
"There is such a fine line in winning," Horton said. "If Auburn wins the Clemson game, which they very easily could have or should have; if they win the LSU game, which they're ahead in the fourth quarter, it may have all been different. If you look at Texas A&M, they should have lost to Ole Miss. That was a fluke win. And Louisiana Tech. The parity is so close, everybody has good talent. It's really important for us to get off to a good start and for us to get some confidence in winning games, which is what the Aggies did and what Auburn didn't do a year ago."
Horton said he wants to see how Auburn responds when there's adversity this season.
"That's one of our big challenges," he said. "You really don't know because you haven't been put in that situation yet. There's going to be speed bumps. As coaches, we're looking forward to see how our guys react."
Follow Auburn on Twitter: