Aug. 18, 2010
By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) --Michael Dyer was excited. Auburn's freshman tailback could barely wait to suit up Wednesday and step into the collegiate arena for the beginning of the fall semester.
It was a "big day" for Dyer, who was anxious to get his first syllabus, listen to a lecture.
"I'm the first one in my family to go to college," he said.
Sept. 4 will be another big day for the highly recruited running back. That's when Auburn kicks off the season against Arkansas State.
The 5-foot-9, 215-pound Dyer will play a "significant" role for the Tigers this season, running backs coach Curtis Luper said.
No surprise there. Seems that has been the plan since Auburn landed Dyer out of Little Rock Christian Academy in Arkansas.
He got a big chance to further establish his role on the offense during Tuesday's scrimmage and came through with a couple of big runs while coaches evaluated younger players. Starter Mario Fannin only got a handful of carries.
Dyer, who was enrolled in summer school, has an ambitious personal rushing goal for his first season: "Over 1,000 yards." But he quickly reversed his field and said winning and playing his role will be his first priorities.
Good move, since topping 1,000 could be difficult with Fannin seemly entrenched in the starting job.
But the high expectations are there, from Dyer and his coaches.
Auburn has produced current NFL running backs Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams and Brandon Jacobs -- who actually transferred away in search of playing time -- and most recently Ben Tate.
However, the Tigers haven't landed a back with this much hype since Williams in 2001.
Dyer hasn't disappointed.
"The thing about Mike is he ran for 8,000 yards in high school," Luper said. "That's all he's ever done, is gain yards. That's just all he knows. He'll do the same thing here."
Fannin replaces Tate as Auburn's starter after mainly being used as a receiver last season. Onterio McCalebb ran for 565 yards as a freshman. The dismissal of redshirt freshman Dontae Aycock in May for violating team rules opened the door even wider for Dyer to make an immediate impact.
He was rated the nation's fifth-best prospect overall by ESPN.com and No. 11 by Rivals.com after rushing for 8,097 yards and 84 touchdowns in his career.
"My job since Day 1, since I've been recruited, has been that I'll come in and do my best whatever that role is," Dyer said. "If that's carrying the ball, then that's the thing I want to do."
Carrying the ball isn't the problem. Like many freshman running backs who were prep stars, Dyer is having to work on his pass blocking and mastering a more complex offense.
It won't keep him out of the backfield, though.
"I think his head was swimming the first week and a half, and he's trying to learn protections and where he fits in the running game," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "I think he's playing probably a little bit more without thinking.
"It's just going to be a continuous learning process for him, in terms of the whole thing. You can't just run the ball."
Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton figures the compact Dyer presents a couple of problems for opposing defenses: Finding him and bringing him to the ground.
"He's just one of those guys that's low to the earth," Newton said. "He's running so low that defenders can't see him behind those big offensive linemen.
"But when he comes out of there, he comes running. It's so hard to hit him because he's got those big massive legs. He's just a load to bring down."
Auburn has plenty of freshmen who could contribute this season, from receiver Trovon Reed to defensive linemen Corey Lemonier and Jeffrey Whitaker and several linebackers.
But running back is an area that a freshman can come in more easily than some others, provided their bodies can hold up. Last season, the Southeastern Conference alone had McCalebb, Alabama's Trent Richardson (751 yards) and Vanderbilt's Warren Norman (783).
Williams led the team in rushing as a freshman despite having a season shortened by injury.
"Mentally, it's the easiest position to play on offense, but physically it may be the most demanding because you're getting four or five hits per play," Luper said.
"Do the math."