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Position breakdown: Tre Mason and Auburn's tailback

July 28, 2013


Tre Mason made it to a 1,000-yard season in 2012 (Todd Van Emst photo)

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala -- Tre Mason didn't blink this summer when a football website failed to list him among the Top 5 running backs in the Southeastern Conference. 

"Guess I'll use that for motivation," he tweeted. 

Mason returns to Auburn as the standout of an otherwise wayward 2012 offense after quietly becoming the first non-quarterback to lead the Tigers in total offense since Bo Jackson in 1985. 

He was one of eight tailbacks in the SEC to rush for more than 1,000 yards last season, and is one of only four returning. His 1,002 yards rushing and 86 yards receiving accounted for 30 percent of the Tigers' offensive output last year.

But the competition for carries, and team improvement, took a turn in the spring when Gus Malzahn brought his fast-paced offense back to Auburn, and when junior college running back Cameron Artis-Payne and the rejuvenated Corey Grant impressed the coaches. 

The top of the depth chart remains unsettled as Auburn begins fall practice Friday. 

"It's really going to be fun and interesting," running backs coach Tim Horton said over the summer. 

Can Mason top 1,000 yards again? It may depend on how the carries are divided, but Malzahn has had nine 1,000-yard rushers in seven years as a college coach. 

Horton said none of the backs really ran away from the others in the spring. Artis-Payne was solid. Mason missed considerable time with a hurt ankle. Grant missed the final stages an illness that landed him in the hospital. He may take over for speed-sweep king Onterio McCalebb and could see time as a slot receiver. 

The wildcards are freshmen Peyton Barber and Johnathan Ford. They're behind the rest, but Malzahn has shown he's not afraid to give true freshmen and little-used veterans a chance to hit it big. Some have. 

The candidates:

Tre Mason (5-10. 198, Jr.) Named to preseason All-SEC second-team at Media Days after breaking the 1,000-yard rushing milestone on the final play of 2012. Averaged 5.9 yards a carry and scored eight touchdowns. 

Cameron Artis-Payne (5-11, 210, Jr.) Ranked the No. 1 junior college running back in the country after rushing for 2,048 yards and 25 touchdowns at Allan Hancock Junior College in California. Was Auburn's A-Day offensive MVP after rushing for 117 yards and catching two passes for 47 yards. 

Corey Grant   (5-11, 205, Jr.) Had only nine carries for 29 yards last season. He'll be well rested for 2013, considering he was redshirted at Alabama in 2010, transferred and sat out at Auburn in 2011 and saw limited action last year. 

Peyton Barber (5-11, 225, Fr.)  Rushed for 1,713 yards and 22 touchdowns  last season at Milton High in Alpharetta, Ga., home of 5-star defensive line newcomer Carl Lawson.  

Jonathan Ford (6-0, 195, Fr.) Rushed for 1,669 yards and 27 touchdowns last season at New Hope High School. Has won praise in summer workouts.

Charles Goldberg writes for Follow him on Twitter



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