2004 Football Preview: Running Backs Part Two

In the fifth of a series of articles previewing the positions on the AU football team, this is part two of a feature on the running backs.

Auburn, Ala.--There is little doubt that Auburn has one of the most talented running back tandems in the country in Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, but if Williams or Brown should need a rest Coach Eddie Gran has plenty of options for a replacement, beginning with junior Tre Smith.

Perhaps Auburn's most productive back during spring practice, Smith (5-10, 197) has shown the ability to make plays when given the chance in his college career. His biggest game came against Alabama as a freshman when he rushed for 126 yards on 25 carries. The fourth team back will be redshirt freshman Carl Stewart (6-1, 215), a big back who runs well between the tackles.

Tre Smith runs during spring practice.

"I think the pile just seemed to be pushing forward with him," Gran says of Smith's running this past spring. "He looked stronger and that's what we were excited about with him in the spring. In the two tailback situations your first two would be Carnell and Ronnie and your second two would be Tre and Carl. You put those two in the game at the same time.

"That's how it worked in the spring and they really got a good feel for each other. The swing guy right now is Tre. Right now when Ronnie is out I would put Tre in there with Carnell and vice versa. Carl is certainly making some strides and had a great spring. We'll try to find a way to get him on the field also."

Carl Stewart is a former Mr. Football in the state of Tennessee.

When there aren't two tailbacks on the field this fall you can expect junior Jake Slaughter to be leading the way at fullback. A 6-2, 237-pounder, Slaughter proved his worth last season for the Tigers in wins over Alabama and in the Music City Bowl to close the season. With Brandon Johnson out with an injury he led the way for Williams and Brown to lead the Tigers to victory. Gran says that both Slaughter and freshman Michael McLaughlin will have a chance to see some action this year despite Auburn using two tailbacks for a large portion of the offense.

"He got some good experience at the end of last season," Gran says of Slaughter. "He played the second half of the Alabama game and the whole game against Wisconsin. We ran a lot of two-back stuff and short yardage situations which is his thing. We're just going to have roles for everybody. Jake knows his role and his role is our short yardage stuff. We can get into two backs with our other guys as well and spread the field where maybe Jake can't do that, but those other guys can't take the pounding that Jake can.

"As long as each of us know our role I think Jake can help us win. Then you have Michael McLaughlin coming in who had a great Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game performance. He really did well there. He's athletic, fun to be around, and 225 pounds already. I think you're going to hear from him down the road."

Jake Slaughter runs against Georgia Tech last season.

In addition to the talent already at tailback, two newcomers are also expected to come in and challenge for playing time on offense and special teams. Both Brad Lester (5-11, 188) and Jerald Watson (5-11, 205) have the speed and skills to help Auburn right away in the return game and could see some action catching the ball out of the backfield. Gran says the duo adds to an already potent running game this fall.

"You never know with a freshman," Gran says. "They might be ready to go right now and if so we'll find a place for them. If not, you redshirt them. That's a ways away though and we don't have to worry about that right now. We just tell them that if they come in and have a chance to contribute to the team then they will whether it be on special teams or wherever. They are both great returners and can both play the game of football."

Yet another standout back will suit up for the Tigers this fall, but won't have the chance to show what he can do. South Carolina transfer Kenny Irons (5-11, 205, Jr.) was explosive in the spring at tailback, but must sit out this season. Irons will join the team for game action in 2005.

Running Backs Part One

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