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Auburn's three young running backs vying for playing time
Aug. 9, 2014

Roc Thomas makes a move in Auburn's preseason practice

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala.  Auburn's first scrimmage of the preseason didn't feature Corey Grant or Cameron Artis-Payne, the two tailbacks who combined for 1,300 yards last season. 

"We know," said coach Gus Malzahn, "what we have with our two older guys, and we feel really good about that." 

So enter Roc Thomas, Kamryn Pettway, Peyton Barber. They were given a chance in the midweek scrimmage, and they may play a significant role in the next scrimmage, too. 

"In a perfect world, two of those three will be in the mix," Malzahn said. 

Two out of three? Look for the two who can pass block, too. 

"My big concern is always third-down pass protection," Malzahn said. 

Malzahn's other big concern is protecting the football. And then there's that running thing. 

"You give him the ball and give him a chance to do some things. That'll be our big question this week, to give those three guys a chance and see how it all falls out." 

Here are the three guys: 

Roc Thomas, freshman, Mr. Football in the state from Oxford High School, where he rushed for 2,211 yards and 32 touchdowns last season while averaging almost 10 yards per carry. 

Kamryn Pettway, freshman, rushed for 1,402 yards and 17 touchdowns at Prattville High School last year. 

Peyton Barber, redshirt freshman, rushed for 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns at Milton High in Alpharetta, Georgia. 

Back to the scrimmage: "All three of them did some good things, and all three made some mistakes, which is normal. But, I will say this, I think all three of them are really talented. And that's the main thing, because you have to ask yourself 'are you talented enough to play?' Who's coachable, who's going to protect the football. That's what's on my mind. Who's going to protect the football, especially being young? So, we'll give them enough chances during fall camp to show who can do that and who can execute our offense and who we can count on, that's the bottom line." 

Malzahn knows more about Grant and Artis-Payne. They're the ones vying for the playing time left behind by SEC-leading rusher Tre Mason. Grant rushed for 664 yards last year. Artis-Payne went for 614 yards.* 

*Don't forget, quarterback Nick Marshall was Auburn's second-leading rusher last year with 1,068 yards. 

Saturday notebook? Here's one…

It was hot at practice Saturday

How hot was it?

"The big emphasis right now is we play our first game at 3 o'clock. We've got to be able to handle the heat," Malzahn said. "Really, up to this point, it's been fairly mild. It was a good day for our guys to feel what it feels like. We practice outside, primarily, the whole day. 

"I think our guys handled themselves well, being the first day it was really hot, the first day we were all primarily outside. That's a big part of our success, being mentally and physically in shape. And be able to focus. When you get tired, being able to focus, not just being able to survive, but being able to execute your assignment. That's the big challenge. It was good for us to be out there." 

Auburn practiced twice Saturday after taking Friday off. The coaches used it as an evaluation day. 

"It was good for our coaches to have an evaluation day, to really evaluate after six days, to evaluate the older guys. Who's improved? 

"We have a lot better information about the younger guys. We have a plan going into this week. There are a few more guys we have a few more looks. Before you get into the season you just want to make sure you're right.  The good thing is we have some very talented young guys and newcomers that could have a chance who can definitely help. That's what we're still trying to do this week, and we'll know by the end of the week we'll have a pretty good grip on everything. Then we can really start focusing on our opponent for the first game." 

No one is on the verge of changing positions. 

"We had a little bit of discussion, but nothing that we’re ready to say for sure," Malzahn said. "At the end of this week, that’s when things really start to narrow down. You get two weeks out and you start focusing on your opponent. They’ve got to get the specific reps at that. There are a few discussions out there, but nothing to really talk about at this time."

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