Joined by returning letterman Corey Grant as well as powerful junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne, Mason should lead a more explosive group of runners this year for the Tigers with the addition of a pair of high school backs as well this August.
Carrying the ball 171 times as a sophomore in 2012, Mason ran for 1,004 yards and scored eight touchdowns for an offense that struggled to move the ball much of the season. With Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee bringing back a no-huddle offense designed to get the running backs plenty of touches, Mason could flourish even more this season with his combination of speed and strength.
Artis-Payne could be the guy that gives the Tigers a solid one-two punch along with Mason. Showing the ability to run with power and also make defenders miss when he arrived for spring practice, Artis-Payne has already shown a glimpse of what made him one of the top junior college backs in the country. In two seasons at Allan Hancock College in California, Artis-Payne ran for 3,412 yards and scored 43 rushing touchdowns.
Cameron Artis-Payne was the Offensive MVP of Auburn's spring game.
Grant, a two-time Class 6A state champ in the 100 meters, is the fastest running back. He saw limited action, but after a good performance in the spring he could be in line to see more extensive action this fall in an offense that looks more suited to take advantage of his speed.
The good news for the backs is the return of fullback Jay Prosch. A bruising blocker who was a big reason why the Tigers were able to run for nearly as many yards as they threw for last season, Prosch is bigger and stronger and should find a big role in Malzahn's offense as well.
Last season Prosch ran the ball 12 times for 38 yards and caught five passes for 19 yards. The receiving game is where his numbers should increase this fall as his ability to get to the edge in the passing game could become a big part of the passing game for the Tigers, especially early in the season. Also providing depth at the position is redshirt freshman tight end/H-Back Ricky Parks.
Newcomers To Watch
Physical with the ability to dodge would-be tacklers and catch the ball out of the backfield, 5-11, 220 Peyton Barber arrives at Auburn this summer with the chance to help right away. Injured as a junior at Milton High in Alpharetta, Ga., Barber ran wild as a senior with 1,980 yards and 25 touchdowns while sharing time in the backfield.
Peyton Barber gives the Tigers another big back.
He will be joined by speedy Johnathan Ford from New Hope. Originally committed to Vanderbilt, Ford earned All-State honors after rushing for 1,669 yards and scoring 27 touchdowns as a senior despite missing three games because of an ankle injury.
With good hands and better than average speed, Ford could play the classic tailback role or get a look at the speed back role that Onterio McCalebb handled so well in Malzahn's offense.