Roc Thomas earns the start at tailback for Auburn in the opener
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. ― Back in the day, you know, 2013, Auburn had two tailbacks lead in rushing in each of the first three games and ― guess what? ― Tre Mason wasn't one of them.
The guy who would finish as a Heisman Trophy finalist and rush for more than 1,800 yards watched as Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne won those days. Truth is, Mason led Auburn in rushing ― get this ― just three times in the first 10 games that season.
History says Auburn can use its depth again to see how this year's running back race plays out.
That race begins against Louisville in Saturday's 2:30 season-opener in the Georgia Dome with Roc Thomas topping the depth chart and Peyton Barber, Jovon Robinson and Kerryon Johnson waiting their turn.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee says Thomas will start, but "after that, there are a lot of things that are unknown."
Thomas, Barber, Robinson and Johnson will all try to fill the gap left by the departure of Artis-Payne, who followed up Mason's 1,800-yard rushing year by rushing for more than 1,600 yards last year.
Thomas and Barber combined for 268 yards last season. Robinson is a junior college transfer. Johnson is a freshman.
Thomas said he feels "a lot different" this season.
"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."
Lashlee said the running back rotation Saturday could change on the fly.
"We really still don't have a starter, but Roc has earned the right to go out there first," Lashlee said. "He's had a great camp. We feel good about Peyton. We feel good about Jovon. And to be honest with you, we feel good about Kerryon, so they'll all get chances. It'll be a by-feel situation and we'll learn about our guys pretty quick.
"There are a lot of guys we're going to learn a lot about because it's one thing to do it on the practice field. You do it in front of 70-80,000 and millions on TV and in the big moment and consistently, who some guys have that, some guys it takes them more time to get there so we’ll see. We do have a lot of guys who have played some. There are still some that haven't played at all. There are a lot of unknowns. A lot of questions will be answered."
Thomas tops the depth chart with Barber and Robinson listed with an "or" as the backup.
"I wouldn’t read anything between that," coach Gus Malzahn said. "You're going to see us play all three of them. We’d like to see them in game situations now and hopefully someone will rise to the top."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine