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A-Day another test for Auburn's running backs
April 9, 2016

Roc Thomas looks to be on the run in Auburn's A-Day Game
Roc Thomas looks to be on the run in Auburn's A-Day Game

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn didn't know what it had in running back Tre Mason heading into the 2012 A-Day Game.

A thousand yards rushing that season, and 1,816 yards the next season, the Tigers knew they had a winner.

The search to produce Auburn's ninth 1000-yard rushing season in seven straight years will continue in Saturday's A-Day Game at 3 p.m. in Jordan-Hare Stadium on the SEC Network.

The list of spring contenders are familiar, with a few twists. Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas are the returning tailbacks. H-backs Chandler Cox and Kamyrn Pettway have been taking snaps as tailbacks. Newcomer Malik Miller will get his turn. Contender Kerryon Johnson is missing spring practice with injuries.

"To be honest with you, no one had really earned it in practice," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "Tre hadn't proven head and shoulders above that he was the best in practice at that point. The next year, we kind of knew what we had with (Cameron Artis-Payne). It was, 'Can Corey (Grant) be an every-down back or is he going to have his role?'

"Last year we didn't know. Roc had earned the job, probably at least to start the game coming out of fall camp, but Peyton ended up proving what he could do in a game-like situation."

A-Day will be another chance to evaluate before the season begins.

"We don't even really even think of it as competition. We're pretty much like brothers, so it's not even a competition between us, really," Thomas said.

A refresher: Robinson barely played in the first seven games last season because of injuries, but rushed for 619 yards in the last six games. Thomas had 274 yards on 43 carries. Johnson had 222 yards on 52 carries.

Robinson is looking for more.

"I have high goals and high expectations for myself, I want to be the next 1,000-yard rusher," he said earlier in spring camp. "I'm definitely looking forward to starting off the season right, playing Clemson, starting off the season on a high note. After this first game, we'll definitely see what we've got to work with."

Robinson performed in Auburn's biggest games in the second half of last season. But sometimes, Lashlee said, you don't know how players will perform until the lights are turned on.

"Even if you go live in scrimmages when everything matters -- when all the flashing lights are out there, the game's on the line, the pressure is the highest -- who can step up and make those plays?" Lashlee asked.

Auburn was set with Thomas and Robinson in the opener last year. Both suffered injuries.

"Peyton came in and was really a big reason we won the football game and closed it out. So he gained and earned our trust at that point," Lashlee said.

"A lot of times, unless you just have a clear-cut guy, you need to get a few games in to find out, 'OK, who's the toughest of these guys? Who can not only just have a good run here or there, but who can handle the pounding for 20, 25-plus carries in our league? Who gets better as the game goes on?' You learn your guys.

"Until we play Clemson in Week 1 and see who can really handle it -- Drive 4, Drive 5, Drive 6 -- it's sometimes to know who's that kind of bell cow that you can really hang your hat on."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:


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