Spring Position Preview: Running Backs

A look at Auburn's running backs heading into spring practice for the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn will take the first step towards replacing the departed Tre Mason at running back and Jay Prosch at fullback when the Tigers take the field for spring practice beginning on Tuesday.

With key players Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne returning along with redshirt freshman Peyton Barber, the backfield should be fun to watch in spring practice under the guidance of Coach Tim Horton.

It's impossible to look ahead without first looking back at the accomplishments of Mason on the field. Used very little as a true freshman, Mason emerged as one of the top backs in the Southeastern Conference as a sophomore when he ran for 1,004 yards on an offense that struggled to move the football on anyone that season. With Gus Malzahn back in charge last year Mason was expected to carry the load, and that he did.

Finishing the year with a school record 1,816 yards on the ground, Mason tied the SEC single-season record with 23 rushing touchdowns. He was at his best in big games, running for 1,289 yards and 17 touchdowns in nine SEC games. Those kinds of numbers will be tough to duplicate for one back in 2014, but the talent is there to again be a dominating rushing attack.

A player who should again have a big role in the offense with the possibility of adding more touches is senior speedster Corey Grant. Used as the speed back for the Tigers, Grant carried the ball 66 times for 647 yards (9.8 yards per carry) and scored six touchdowns. Able to play the true running back spot in addition to his duties on the perimeter, Grant should see his duties increase beginning this spring.

A physical runner who showed some burst out of the backfield in his first season at Auburn, Artis-Payne is a junior college transfer who should be even better now that he has had a taste of life in the SEC. Carrying the ball 91 times for 610 yards and six touchdowns last fall, Artis-Payne gave glimpses of being a big-time back as a junior. He will have to keep that up if he hopes to hold off a stable of guys behind him, beginning with Barber in the spring.

Cameron Artis-Payne transferred to Auburn from a junior college in California for the 2013 season.

Sitting out last season the 5-11, 220 Barber is a physical back who impressed his teammates and coaches with his physical running style and quick feet. Playing at Milton High in Alpharetta, Ga., along with talented freshman defensive end Carl Lawson, Barber had a monster senior season after missing much of his junior year with an injury.

With the ability to break tackles at the line of scrimmage and also make people miss, he rushed for nearly 2,000 yards as a high school senior. A true tailback, he should fit in well in Malzahn's offensive system.

Another 2013 signee, Johnathan "Rudy" Ford, began his freshman season at running back and moved to cornerback to help with the lack of depth in the secondary. Ford carried the football six times for 78 yards a touchdown. If he lines up on offense this spring he will give the Tigers another back with big-play potential.

Providing depth in the spring will be senior Patrick Lymon. Last season he carried the ball just five times for 20 yards, but was a help on special teams for the Tigers.

Peyton Barber has four seasons of eligibility for the Tigers.

At the fullback position Prosch brought a physical presence to the Auburn running game, something the Tigers will be trying to find in spring practice. Backup Gage Batten returns after seeing limited action last fall, but several other players will get an opportunity to make some noise for Coach Scott Fountain at the position. The most intriguing may be junior college transfer Ricky Parks. The former tight end signee who sat out last fall after being dismissed from the Auburn roster, Parks has the athletic ability and size to be a force at the position. Senior Brandon Fulse could also get some work at the position in addition to his duties at tight end.

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