March 21, 2014
Cameron Artis-Payne is in the running at Auburn this spring (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Somebody or bodies have to replace SEC-leading rusher Tre Mason, and Rhett Lashlee says he likes his candidates to do it.
The Auburn offensive coordinator has two guys who played running back last year, one who was redshirted and, eventually, he'll have two signees who will arrive in the summer.
First, we welcome you to the Auburn running back race, Spring Practice Edition, with familiar faces Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, along with redshirt freshman Peyton Barber. Signees Roc Thomas and Kamryn Pettway will join the race later in the year.
Mason left Auburn a year early, taking his 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns to the upcoming NFL draft. Grant went for 647 yards and six touchdowns. Artis-Payne rushed for 610 yards and six touchdowns. Barber waited for his turn.
(There's also the not-so-minor detail that quarterback Nick Marshall rushed for 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, but this is of Artis-Payne, Mason and Barber.)
"We've got three really good ones I'm looking forward to seeing carry the ball," Lashlee said this week. "We're going to give them a lot of touches; we're going to be physical. Can they hold on to the ball? Who is going to get downhill and just gain yards. I look for who can generate yards for himself. You look at Tre -- he generated a high number of yards for himself last year whether it's breaking a tacking, making a guy miss.
"Next is durability. After carry 20, 21, how are they compared to carry 5 and 6? It'll be like it was last year going into the season. We have three good ones. We'll just wait to see how it emerges. If it's by committee, it is. If someone emerges, great. We feel good about that. We feel good about Roc and Cam Pettway coming in this summer. We've had success with freshman running backs, so we'll see if they're ready when they get a shot."
Lashlee has seen Artis-Payne and Grant in game action. But Mason was the workhorse (see 46 carries in the SEC title game). Still, Artis-Payne and Grant have a leg up on Barber.
"There's some truth to that. Cam and Corey have proven themselves a little more. At the same time, they need their work," Lashlee said. "This will be a big spring for Peyton just from a volume standpoint and a load standpoint. Not only carry the ball more, but protections and, just the whole big-picture scheme of things. He's had a year to sit back and take it all in."
Barber is now back with quarterbacks Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson after spending part of last fall with the scout team.
"We'll see how he does in there with Nick, see how he does with Jeremy and those first two units…see how he reacts and responds," Lashlee said.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: