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There's 'great opportunity' in Auburn's running back race
Aug. 7, 2015

Auburn's Peyton Barber is coming through under the watchful eye of running backs coach Tim Horton

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala. ― Roc Thomas is in the running for the starting tailback job at Auburn. But so is Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson, and newcomer Kerryon Johnson wants to play as well.

The friendly competition continues in Auburn's preseason practice with Thomas saying he wants to impress, like everyone else.

"Sometimes you have to not be as selfish as you could be when you're fighting for a spot. You want what's best for the team. If you give it your all, that's what is best for the team," Thomas said.

Auburn's running backs have done what's best for the team the last two years, with Tre Mason leading the SEC in rushing in 2013 and Cameron Artis-Payne doing it in 2014. There's no clear-cut favorite to follow in their footsteps, and, indeed, coach Gus Malzahn says it may take a few games to find the hot hand. He's played that game before.

Thomas and Barber talked about their chances after Thursday's practice.

"I feel like I'm getting a great opportunity," Barber said. "I'm used to competition. I guess we'll have to see who the best man is."

"We're pretty much brothers," Thomas said. "We try to encourage each other out there. It's really just about doing your job. It will play out."

Artis-Payne rushed for 1,608 yards last season. Thomas rushed for 214 yards. Barber rushed for 54 yards. Robinson arrived last December after rushing for 3,198 yards the last two years at Georgia Military. Johnson was Mr. Football in Alabama last year after rushing for 1,659 yards at Madison Academy.

The competition is there, but "I don't really feel that much pressure. I feel like I thrive under pressure," Barber said.

"I feel like I can do it all. I feel like I'm and every-down back. I can catch, run. Anything you need me to do, I can do.

"I want to do what Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne and those guys were able to do."

Barber is a junior who has waited his turn longer than the others, and once considered a change of scenery. "But that's not me. I'm not a quitter."

Now, "I've gotten the playbook down. I’ve got it down pat. I'm comfortable with everything. Now, it's pretty much time to go out and execute,"

Barber said Auburn has been patient, that he has spent extra time with the playbook because "I'm dyslexic and I’m ADHD."

Thomas said he can be Auburn's every-down back.

"That's what I pretty much try to do every play, whether I'm blocking or running a route, really just try to condition myself every play," he said.

"I also feel a lot more confident out there. Last year, I felt pretty uptight. Now, it's pretty much fun every practice, and I think it will be pretty much fun in the games also."

Thomas said newcomer Johnson is doing well, that he's farther along than both he and Barber when they were freshmen.

"He's very smart. He's really knows every question he's asked. He knows his coverages, defenses, things like that."

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



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