Mason Heads Running Game By Committee

Auburn's running game under Gus Malzahn was always built on having multiple weapons, and this season should be no different.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn had six players named to the Coaches All-SEC team on Thursday with junior running back Tre Mason, junior center Reese Dismukes and senior punter Steven Clark as well as fellow senior kicker Cody Parkey all named to the second-team.

Senior defensive end Dee Ford and junior tight end C.J. Uzomah were named to the third team by the coaches.

It's not a surprise to see Mason's name on the list following a breakout season in 2012 that saw him rush for 1,002 yards on an offense that struggled to find any rhythm for much of the year. This season much more is expected of Mason in Gus Malzahn's up-tempo offense as it has a history of producing big numbers on the ground.

Unlike many offenses, however, the rushing yardage in this offense is designed to be spread out among several different players. In 2009 Ben Tate ran for 1,362 yards, less than half of the season total for the Tigers. In 2010 everyone knows what Cam Newton did for Auburn's offense with 1,473 yards on the ground and 20 touchdowns, but the combination of Onterio McCalebb, Michael Dyer and Mario Fannin contributed an additional 2,298 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns as well.

Even in 2011 as Auburn's offense struggled late in the season to throw the football effectively, there was a sharing of the load in the running game. Dyer led the team with 1,242 yards, but McCalebb and quarterback Kiehl Frazier added 968 yards and eight touchdowns to give the Tigers additional threats on the ground.

This season Mason should have the opportunity to get plenty of work, but will have help from junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne along with junior Corey Grant. All three are capable of playing different roles for the Auburn offense with Mason's ability to hit the role with speed and power, Artis-Payne's brute strength and Grant's breakaway speed. Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said that's exciting to think about heading into the new season.

"We have said that since the spring, it's kind of a broken record, but really all three of those guys bring something different to the table for us and I think all three are going to play and probably play a good amount," Lashlee said. "There's some good versatility there and I think that gives us some depth."

Auburn's depth at running back took a hit recently when speedy Johnathan Ford was moved to defense in the wake of an injury to sophomore cornerback Jonathan Jones. Without him in the backfield it could mean more work for the other incoming freshman, big Peyton Barber. A true power back with good feet and hands, Barber is getting prepared to play said Lashlee and with Auburn's history of sharing the wealth that's probably the right move.

"We feel like with Tre and Cameron and with Corey we've got three older guys that do a nice job for us that went through spring," Lashlee said. "I'll tell you this: we were very excited about both Peyton Barber and Johnathan Ford with the camp they have had. We felt like we were right on, if not even our expectations were met even more than we thought they would be with those two. It just came down to, at the end of the day, it helps to move Johnathan to defense right now and he's one of those guys that wants to play and wants to help us win. That's the move we made.

"Peyton Barber is a guy that, from a physical standpoint, we feel is ready to play," the offensive coordinator added. "It's just a matter of you're a true freshman, but you know when certain moves happen that will thrust people up quicker than normal. He's got to be ready to go. At this point the three older guys are there, but he's got to be high on alert."

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