(photo:Albert Cesare,Opelika Auburn News)
The Auburn football season is just 11 days away and for the first time in eight summers there hasn’t been a quarterback race on The Plains. With a potential Heisman candidate and experienced quarterback on the roster, there is no mystery of who will be the Tigers’ field general. Senior signal caller, Nick Marshall will lead the team in defending their SEC Championship.
However, there is a question of who will replace Heisman finalist Tre Mason as the Tigers No.1 Running back? Mason who left early for the NFL, left behind a legacy as one of the greatest running backs to ever play at “Running Back U.”
He was the leading rusher on the No.1 rushing team in the nation and finished his last year with 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns. The number one contender to fill his shoes is senior Cameron Artis-Payne.
He had two 100 yard games and finished 2013 with 610 yards and six touchdowns. Most expect him to get the nod. Still, he has been pushed all fall camp by a bevy of talented backs. Cameron feels good about claiming the top spot though, remarking at one time, “I’m trying to be the first 2,000-yard running back in the SEC.”
While you got to love that attitude, the fact is there are four other guys trying to win that spot and they have been turning heads in camp. Kamryn Pettway a 6′, 239 freshman out of Pratville High has been in the mix but according to Offensive Coordinator, Rhett Lashlee – Red shirt freshman Peyton Barber and true freshman Roc Thomas have been the young guys that have had, “great camps.”
At 5’11″ and 230lb., Barber has a legitimate shot at being number one. He has the build to run it through the tackles and he has the added benefit of having played scout team running back last year. That experience gives him a year of playing against college level talent. Running backs coach, Tim Horton believes Barber has the power and the moves to be a top college back.
Roc Thomas was Mr. Alabama Football out of Oxford High where he finished his high school career with 6,169 yards and 82 touchdowns. Players and coaches alike have been wowed by his exploits during fall camp.
Coach Lashlee has already said he will play this year. His only drawback may be his size. Yet at 5′,11″ and 193 pounds, he could take on the role of Cory Grant who was the Tigers outside home run threat last season.
If he did that, what role would Grant have in the offense? Well Cory has battled all spring and summer to be the featured back. A job that many thought was out of the question his first two years because, although fast, he was a little on the small side.
However, many forget that Tre Mason was also considered a small and fast scat back early in his career. Then Tre bulked up and started proving what he could do between the tackles.
Like Mason before him, Grant headed into the offseason looking to prove he could be the every down back that was needed in the HUNH. “One of my main goals was proving that I can be a back that can run between the tackles,” Grant said. Reports out of Auburn is the junior is now 207 lbs. and according to Lashlee is, “A thick, big strong back that can fly,” and is, “now very capable of running between the tackles.”
Last year he averaged almost ten yards per carry and rushed for 647 yards and six touchdowns. What could he do as a bigger, stronger back who hasn’t lost any speed? This writer believes he is the one guy on the roster most like Tre Mason. And like Mason he could be Auburn’s breakout Running back in 2014.
At any rate, in eight years as a college coach, Gus Malzahn has had nine players produce eleven 1,000 yard seasons. That fact along with a promised open passing attack in 2014 will mean one of the five backs will have a breakout year. Question is … who will it be?