Auburn, Ala.--This week the Auburn offense gets a boost with the return of junior tailback Brad Lester to the playing rotation for the first time since the Alabama game last season because of academic concerns that resulted in a six-game suspension. His return will mean less work individually for running backs Benjamin Tate and Mario Fannin the rest of the season but that's something Tate says will only make the offense better in the long run.
"It will be hard for teams to prepare for us because they'll always have a fresh back coming at them," Tate says. "We won't have to worry about getting tired. We'll always have fresh legs. When there is another back out there your chances get cut down some so it will make you more hungry to make a play every time. That will make you run harder and that will help us out as a team."
Brad Lester scores a touchdown against Alabama last season.
Auburn's leading returning rusher this season and the projected starter before the year, Lester was forced to sit out the first five games of the season after missing the Cotton Bowl last year. Rushing for 510 yards and nine touchdowns last year and with 869 yards and 14 scores for his career, Lester brings some excitement to the table at running back. Fannin says he adds something different to make the entire group better.
"It's going to add a lot of speed back there," Fannin says. "Brad is a real quick guy. It's going to help us out a lot. We're happy that he's back. He's happy that he's back and he can't wait to get out there and play.
"Me and Ben are more power and speed backs," he adds. "Brad is more of a slasher, speed back. I think it's going to just add another dimension to our running game."
This season Tate leads the way for the Tigers with 410 yards rushing on 93 carries with three touchdowns while Fannin is next with 267 yards on just 49 carries with four going for scores. While those numbers may slow down somewhat with Lester's return Fannin says whatever is best for the team is fine with him.
"You can't look at it selfishly," Fannin says. "As a teammate you just have to be happy for him that he's back. Like I said before, if I get in the game that's good and if I don't I'll be there to support my teammates."
Closer to full strength at the running back position that they have been all season with just Tristan Davis missing from the attack after injuring his foot against Florida last week, the Tigers will continue to draw attention from opposing defenses wanting to stop the run. Tate says because of that Brandon Cox and the passing game needs to continue to make plays like they did last Saturday night.
"You always have to have a passing game," Tate says. "No matter who it is, if they've got 10 guys in the box it's hard to run. You've always got to have a passing game. They compliment each other."
No matter how much success Cox has throwing the ball, Auburn will continue to have the mentality of run first and pass second. Tate says that's just something they believe in and eventually it comes down to man vs. man and who has the will to get the job done running the football.
"Teams know we're going to run the ball but it doesn't matter to us," Tate says. "We're going to run it and we're going to say we're going to out-physical you and still move down the field anyway. That's pretty much what we did to Florida for much of the game."
The win over Florida has put Auburn football back on the map once again after many had given up on the Tigers following losses to South Florida and Mississippi State. While it feels good to have everybody talking good about you once again, Tate says this team has to focus on the job at hand this week because Vanderbilt is coming in looking for a victory.
"That was a big confidence booster but you don't want to get too overconfident and think you're too good," Tate says. "Just like them (Florida). They beat Tennessee and then the next week had a hard fought game at Ole Miss. Vanderbilt is not by any means a sorry team. If we don't come out focused and ready to play we'll be in a dogfight again."