2013 Auburn Spring Preview: Running Backs

We continue our look at spring practice for the 2013 Auburn Tigers with a breakdown of the running back position.

Auburn, Ala.—Coaching running backs is a familiar assignment for new Auburn assistant Tim Horton. After six years coaching the position at his alma mater Arkansas, Horton takes over a group short on depth in his first season on the Plains.

The good news is that Horton has a 1,000-yard rusher returning and talented signees Peyton Barber and Johnathan Ford expected to join the cast in the fall, but for now Tre Mason, Corey Grant and junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne is it for the scholarship players at the position for spring practice.

"We don't have the numbers we would like to have," Horton says. "Right now at the true running back position we're looking at really only having five guys on the roster for the spring. We need to keep them healthy during the spring because our numbers aren't what we would like them to be. Next spring at this time we'll be in a little better shape."

Despite playing on one of the worst offensive teams in the last 40 years of Auburn football, Mason returns after rushing for 1,002 yards and scoring eight touchdowns in 2012. Averaging 5.9 yards per carry on a team that ran for just 1,781 total yards in 12 games, Mason showed that he can be the every down back that the Tigers have been looking for.

Now back in the offense was recruited to play, Mason's combination of size and surprising power should make him a solid threat for Gus Malzahn's offensive system. Behind him is where the biggest questions lie however.

Corey Grant will be a redshirt junior this season.

Carrying the ball just nine times for 30 yards last season and playing mostly special teams, Grant is a hard worker who has impressed his teammates and coaches since transferring from Alabama prior to the 2011 season. Still just a junior, the Opelika native has already shown Horton his willingness to work and that's something that will help him this spring to compete for possible playing time next fall.

"Corey Grant is doing a terrific job," Horton says. "He has a great work ethic and has been really impressive so far. I love his attitude. He has done well in the weight room. I'm anxious to see what he can do on the field because right now his first impression has been really good."

Auburn had a huge need to bring in a back to go through spring practice in the 2013 class and got just that in Artis-Payne. A physical runner who set a school record for rushing yards at Allen Hancock College in California with 2,048 in 2012, Artis-Payne finished his two-year career with 43 rushing touchdowns. His ability to grind out yards should be beneficial to Auburn's offense next season and Horton notes that getting him in early is very helpful to getting him adjusted to life in the SEC.

"It's very important," Horton says. "He's been able to go through the winter conditioning program and the weight program. I think the biggest adjustment from high school football and from junior college football is really the speed of the game. Things happen so much faster and for him to have that time to get acclimated to the speed of the game during spring practice is going to give him a chance to see significant playing time next year."

Cameron Artis-Payne enrolled at Auburn in January.

While those three backs should get the bulk of the work at the classic tailback spot in Malzahn's offense, the other running back position is up for grabs according to Horton. Without a true player for the position currently on the roster he says that slot receivers such as Quan Bray and Trovon Reed will likely get a look there this spring with walk-ons such as Chandler Shakespeare, Patrick Lymon and Johnny Lockett also available to share some reps.

Auburn begins spring practice March 27 with the A-Day Game scheduled for April 20 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

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