Horton Liking The Depth At Running Back

Auburn has depth at running back heading into the new season and Auburn's new coach for that position, Tim Horton, talks about his players as the Tigers prepare for their season opener.

Auburn, Ala.--With junior Tre Mason back after rushing for more than 1,000 yards last season, Auburn's running game has the potential to be even better under Coach Gus Malzahn in 2013 because of numbers.

Throw in returner Corey Grant, junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne along with incoming freshmen Johnathan Ford and Peyton Barber and first-year coach Tim Horton has plenty of options to choose from to help Mason carry the load.

That's a good thing considering how the game has changed in the last 10 years. Gone are the days of one back carrying the load for a team. Instead you have combination running games where two or even three backs share the work. Horton said playing in the SEC that is the way it almost has to be.

"It has changed to where you better have some depth," he said. "What I do know about this league is we have got five right now, but we could be down to two. This is a position where you better have depth because it's one you get banged up playing."

Cameron Artis-Payne

With Mason established in his role and ability, Artis-Payne came to Auburn and showed in spring practice that he could be a viable option for the Tigers. Now in much better shape in the preseason, Horton said they've seen a different side out of the 2,000-yard junior college runner and it could mean good things for the Tigers this fall.

"I think he's in better condition now than he was when he first got here," Horton said. "He has displayed a little more speed and quickness than he had in the spring. What people may have perceived from the spring game is that he's our banger. That might not be the case. He's shown in some of our scrimmages the ability to do it all.

"Obviously, Tre's greatest asset in his speed and quickness.," the coach said. "Johnathan and Corey can obviously do that, but I'm not going to say Tre and Cam can't either."

That additional quickness from Artis-Payne could allow him to play not only the true tailback position, but possibly even the speed-back role held down by Onterio McCalebb the last four seasons. With Grant and Ford as options there also, Horton said things are beginning to shake out at the position as the Tigers close in on the season opener against Washington State.

"There are probably two of the five that it looks like might be more perimeter players, the speed sweep guys that we throw the ball to in the flats and things of that nature," Horton said. "You're talking about Corey Grant and Rudy (Johnathan Ford). Those are more perimeter players. One of the things that Coach Malzahn has always done so well is whatever skill sets your players have, trying to plug them into the offense most efficiently. I think we're going to try to do that in about three weeks."

One of the surprises of preseason camp as been the play of Ford. A speedster from New Hope who was committed to Vanderbilt before signing with the Tigers following a late visit to the Plains, Horton said the coaches want to bring in guys who have the potential to make athletic plays and so far he's done that.

"He has learned well," Horton said. "Here are the two things I want to find out about them quick, and that is attitude and effort. That has been the great thing about the whole group is they have a good attitude and good effort. Johnathan Ford can make a play on the perimeter. That's something we have been real pleased with."

Johnathan Ford has been one of the more impressive members of the 2013 signee class so far in practice.

With the offense beginning to narrow down its focus to begin preparing for Washington State, how the running backs will be used is going to be an important part of things with the quarterback still undecided. That will likely mean more emphasis on the running game early in the 2013 season and Horton said that means the more the merrier for him at running back.

"The one thing that we would like to do if we can is that I don't know if we want to have one running back that carries the ball 35 times," Horton said. "I would rather have two running backs that carry it 15-18 times. We'll see how it all plays out because ultimately you're going to play the best one obviously.

"At the same time, when you can throw fresh, fast players at them all the time I think that can be very effective," Horton added. "I think it helps morale in your running back room. Being able to play three or four guys will be really important to us. You've got earn the right to play, too. If one guy is significantly better then he's going to play. If they are very close then hopefully we can play three or four of these guys."

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