Lots Of Good Options For Running The Football

A preview of Auburn's running backs is featured in our series of position by position looks at the Tigers as they prepare for spring drills.

Auburn, Ala.--Although Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown will have little to prove to their coaches in spring training 2004, that doesn't mean they won't be working hard.

Eddie Gran, who coaches the tailbacks and fullbacks, says both seniors-to-be will be busy when the Tigers take the field for 15 workouts starting on Feb. 29.

"We are expecting Carnell and Ronnie to be coaches on the field as fourth-year guys like Brandon Johnson was for me last year," Gran says. "We are looking for those guys to take on a leadership role. We will be looking for leadership from Tre Smith, too, who will be a third-year guy. Carl Stewart will have some good people to look up to and learn from. I would say our tailback position is pretty solid."

The thrill of victory: Carnell Williams celebrates Auburn's 2003 victory over Alabama.

Williams goes into his senior season with 19 career starts and 2,666 career rushing yards. He has 33 touchdowns as a Tiger and has averaged better than 5.3 yards per carry. Williams was an All-SEC pick last season with his 1,307 rushing yards.

Brown has 14 career starts and 1,792 rushing yards with 20 rushing TDs. He has averaged five yards per carry as a Tiger and has 24 catches for 355 yards and one TD. Williams has 24 career catches for 190 yards.

"We are going to work a lot with Ronnie and Carnell on catching passes this spring," Gran says. "We weren't pleased with how the backs caught the ball as a group. We are looking for more consistency. We caught the ball well at times, but we also dropped more than we have in a long time.

"We will continue to work on our pass protection like we do every year," Gran notes. "We have to be as good as we can be in that area."

Brown currently checks in at 230 pounds, which Gran says is a "good weight" for the big tailback. Williams weighs 200 and is looking for a higher number on the scales. "Both guys will get with Coach Yox and work on becoming bigger, stronger and faster for their senior seasons," Gran says. "That is something both of those guys are determined to do to better themselves. They will do that from now until we start in August.

Ronnie Brown was a second team All-SEC pick as a sophomore.

"I think there is no question Ronnie can play at 230. With Carnell I would say his target weight is 210. That would all be muscle. He will have to work hard to do it, but I don't think there is any question that he will be at 210 by the time we start practice in August."

With Brandon Jacobs out of the mix at tailback, Tre Smith is likely to be the third man in the rotation. The 195-pound junior is a guy that Gran says should see playing this fall. "He will be in the mix," the coach says. "He will still get his opportunities." In two seasons Smith has carried the ball 166 times for 591 yards and has scored nine TDs. He has caught 12 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown.

After doing good work on the scout team as a redshirt, Carl Stewart will join the competition for playing time in spring drills. The 218-pound former Tennessee Mr. Football has already caught his coach's eye. "I think he is a Ronnie Brown type player," Gran says. "He gets you with a little bit of physical running. He has good speed. I like his toughness from what I have seen so far from his redshirt freshman year. I just like his size and I am excited to see him in the mix."

With Brandon Johnson graduating, Jake Slaughter is the lone scholarship fullback on the team until signee Michael McLaughlin arrives in August. The backup will be walk-on 6-2, 226 Chris Chappell, a redshirt freshman walk-on from Shades Valley High.

"Looking at our winter conditioning, Jake has really gotten himself into shape," Gran says. "With it being his job to now lose, things change. You can really tell that in his attitude. We will continue to work with him about staying on his blocks. He is around 235 to 240 pounds now.

Jake Slaughter will start spring training as the main man at fullback.

"Chappell is an unknown," Gran adds. "He played on our scout team last year and we noticed that he was doing a good job playing linebacker. He is a tough guy who was knocking the snot out of us. Our fullbacks would come up there and he was really delivering blows. We were watching him run around and said, ‘Gosh, almighty,' we have just one fullback and here is a guy who will hit you who looks like he can run decently. We asked him to come play fullback. That is the kind of guy we want--one who is not afraid of contact."

Slaughter ran the ball seven times for 23 yards last season and caught one pass for 13 yards. Previously, he had moved between offense and defense with stints at linebacker and defensive end as well as fullback.

Gran says he wants the junior fullback to come out of spring training as a good receiver. "Jake needs to catch the ball a lot better instead of fighting it," the coach says. "He can do it. He looks like he wants to take the position and keep it."

Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles previewing spring football 2004.

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