Running Back Battle Heating Up For Tigers

Senior Cameron Artis-Payne is one of the players battling to replace Tre Mason as Auburn's lead back for the 2014 football season.

Auburn, Ala.--Coming off his first season in an Auburn uniform when he ran for 610 yards and six touchdowns on just 91 carries, senior tailback Cameron Artis-Payne is enjoying the battle for the starting tailback job this spring for the Tigers.

Having to replace SEC Offensive Player of the Year and Heisman finalist Tre Mason, Artis-Payne, Corey Grant and Peyton Barber are all fighting to win the job heading into the fall and right now it's all about putting his nose to the ground and continuing to work.

"Personally, I feel good, I feel great," Artis-Payne said. "Like I said, that's up to the coaches. That's something where they will watch film and see what they like and see what we need to work on. Everybody is fighting for that role. At the end it's ultimately the coaches' decision. You just have to keep working."

Showing signs of being a big-time player early in his initial season on the Plains with 154 yards in his first two games, including 102 in a win over Arkansas State, Artis-Payne was relegated to mop-up duty for much of the remainder of the year as Mason took over the role of workhorse for the Tigers in game four and didn't back off.

Now that he's got another shot to win the job, Artis-Payne said his goal is to just keep getting better and make the most of his opportunities.

"i just have to keep working," he said. "I just have to come out there and get better every day, keep working on the little things like assignment and alignment. Just try to make big plays when you get the opportunity to. It's just a process."

Confidence is something that Artis-Payne brought with him last fall coming out junior college. Already an older and mature player, he believes in his game and that's something offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee likes to see out of his guys.

"Love it," Lashlee said. "Cam's a pro. Cam was a pro last year. He practices like a pro. What that means, he comes to meetings every day. He's the same every day. He doesn't have bad days. He's always attentive. He's always trying to get better. He does everything Coach (Tim) Horton ask him to do. We had confidence in Cam last year.

"And I know Cam last year was ready to go," he added. "I've got a lot of confidence that Cam will do everything we ask him to do, carrying the ball, protections and really do a good job."

The player used mostly as Auburn's speed-back last season, Grant carried the football just 66 times but managed 647 yards and six touchdowns. Working more as a true tailback this spring, Artis-Payne said Grant has shown him the ability to be a complete back this spring but that's not a surprise to him.

"Corey has been doing good as far as toughness," Artis-Payne said. "Like I said, everybody has to work on different things, but Corey has been doing good this spring. He has been making some plays out there. Toughness-wise he has been doing good too."

Corey Grant is having a solid spring for the Tigers

As for the battle for number one, it continues and that will likely be the case into the preseason when freshmen Racean Thomas and Kamryn Pettway join the fray. With three guys to work with this spring and two more coming in this fall, Lashlee said the competition will continue for quite a while and that's the way it should be.

"Well, those freshman coming in that will get in at the first of the summer will have the summer to get acclimated and then the first time we'll really get us to be with them will be in August and so we're going to play the best player at every position," Lashlee said. "I don't care if you're a senior, I don't care if you're a true freshman so those guys are going to get opportunities.

"The difference for them, these guys (on campus now) are light years ahead," the offensive coordiantor noted. "Obviously, Cam and Corey have played. Peyton's had a year plus the spring, so it's just gonna matter with Roc and Kam in that situation, how quick do they pick things up, how fast can they grasp everything and have the game slow down for them."

Lashlee noted that just because Barber didn't play last season that doesn't mean the coaching staff isn't high on his potential. "We still think Peyton's going to be a great player," the coach said. "And then we have had other guys in the past that as a true freshman were ready, and we kind of eased them into it and sometimes earlier in the year they got more or as the year went on they got more or their workload increased."

The coach pointed out it is too early to know how much the two signees will figure into the playing rotation this fall. "We'll have to see how that goes when those two get here and see how they respond, but we're counting on them to come in and compete and want to play and want to play now," Lashlee said.

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