Gran: Running Backs Getting Better Each Week

Running backs Coach Eddie Gran talks about the return of Brad Lester and the play of the group as a whole.

Auburn, Ala.--Last Saturday looked like old times for Coach Eddie Gran and the Auburn running game in a 35-7 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Using three different tailbacks, the Tigers powered for 239 yards rushing led by Benjamin Tate's 96 yards on just nine carries. Throw in 77 yards from Brad Lester and 54 from Mario Fannin and Saturday was the first showing of the three-headed monster this season for the Auburn running game.

"I thought they all just kind of fed off each other," Gran says. "They were excited to see Brad back. The production between the three of them, I thought, was really good. They all graded out 95-96 percent. The effort has been good. What I have seen is they are getting better every week. If we can continue to do that we're going to be okay."

For the first five games this season Lester was on the sidelines, suspended for academic reasons. Working with Coach Kevin Yoxall to stay in shape for his return and taking reps in practice, Lester came back with a vengeance on Saturday. He showed his explosive speed and also the ability to get into the end zone with two touchdowns on just 13 carries.

It was a big step for Lester and for Auburn's offense as a whole because Lester is a player who adds breakaway ability in the running game and also the experience factor, which is big for a very young offense. Gran says more than what he brought on the field, Lester's return was big because it was another step in the growing process for Lester off the field as well.

"I guess any kid could have folded and he could have gotten down, but he was at practice all the time and did everything we asked him to do," Gran says. "He did everything he needed to do academically. He kept good focus. I think he grew up a lot during this process. You can go one way or the other with it and I think he went the right way. He matured. He understands the importance of it. I think it was good for him."

With three running backs all wanting carries, the toughest job for Gran the rest of the season may be just finding a way to keep everyone happy. In past seasons that hasn't been a problem as Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown shared carries in 2004 with Lester and Kenny Irons doing the same each of the last two seasons.

Gran says so far this group has done much of the same and that was on display in Saturday's game. He notes it's especially important because of everything they ask of the running backs, not only carrying the football, but away from it as well.

"I looked up one time and Brad had taken himself out and one of them had gone in," Gran says. "I looked at Brad and I said ‘why are you out?' He said, ‘Coach, I just need a break and I'm going back in in two plays.' Our thing is that we're going to play full speed every rep. If you can't do that full speed, if you make a block and you can't get up and go sprint 20 yards because our receiver catches a hitch and breaks a tackle, then we're not playing at championship speed.

"You look at Carl Stewart this week and we're starting to get some of that stuff. You saw him, after making a block, getting up and going 20 yards downfield and get another block. Ben Tate had one of those scenarios, too. You can't do that if you play tentatively. I don't think you can. We really stress that and they feel comfortable about doing that themselves. It works out great for me."

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