Aug 20, 2013
Tre Mason is back, looking for a big followup to his 1,000-yard season (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — He has his quarterback and has a good idea on his starting offensive line. Now, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee is working out the playing rotation for his running backs and receivers.
The depth chart for the Aug. 31 season-opener against Washington State is being set with quarterback Nick Marshall on top, but don't write everything in permanent ink.
Something as little as the first play being a run or a pass will determine the starting lineup each week. Don't think so? Consider Auburn's 2010 national championship season: Onterio McCalebb was your opening-day starting tailback. Mario Fannin started Game Two. And Game Seven. Mike Dyer would start eight games. But it was McCalebb who started Game One, Six, Nine and 14, the national championship game.
The 2013 starters? Lashlee isn't saying. But he said he likes his running backs and says Quan Bray and Jaylon Denson have been the most consistent receivers.
"They have been the most steady, and they should be because they are older guys," Lashlee said. "They are going to be juniors and they’ve had a year in our system before. They are guys we are expecting to step up and lead us, not only from a leadership role, but making plays and kind of setting the expectation of how we want people to practice."
Lashlee also is looking for versatile C.J. Uzomah, a sometimes-tight end who could split wide and cause matchup problems.
"Another guy who plays a bunch of different positions for us," Lashlee said.
Lashlee also said Ricardo Louis, who has had a good fall camp, Trovon Reed, Sammie Coates and freshman Marcus Davis are in the mix as well.
"I don’t know who our leading receiver is going to be," Lashlee said. "We’ve had it be different positions the last couple of years."
Gus Malzahn has a history of singling out a receiver, maybe two, and building up stats. Uzomah may fit that category.
"He has been one of those guys that has shown himself to be very dependable. We feel like we’ve got a lot of trust in him right now," Lashlee said.
The running back rotation is solid with 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason returning, junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne on board and speedy Corey Grant available for different roles.
The Tigers moved freshman running back Johnathan Ford, who is known as Rudy, to cornerback in the last few days following a rash of injuries on defense, leaving freshman Peyton Barber in reserve to back up Mason, Artis-Payne and Grant.
"All three of those guys bring something different to the table for us and I think all three are going to play and probably play a good amount," Lashlee said. "There's some good versatility there and I think that gives us some depth."
Lashlee said Ford's move helps an immediate problem.
"We love Rudy. He’s going to be a really good player," he said. "We feel like his future is very bright. He was slated to play on a lot of (special) teams so we were going to find a way to get him into the mix, but at the end of the day we’ve got to win and do what is best for the team."
Lashlee said Ford's move went something like this:
"I think he knew it was a position of need and he went to Coach Malzahn and said, 'Coach, I want to help the team win.' We talked for a little bit and there were some spots over there where we needed some help from a depth perception. They decided to make that move."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: