Backup Backs Getting Ready For Tigers

A pair of Tiger running backs discuss their preparations for Auburn's road trip to play the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Auburn, Ala.--Little-used senior fullback Michael Owens may finally have a chance to make a big impact in a big football game as a running back and little tailback Tre Smith is likely to see a lot of prime time duty this week.

With tailback Carnell Williams out for the season and tailbacks Ronnie Brown (ankle) and Chris Butler (groin) trying to come back from injuries, true freshman Smith is the only healthy tailback. However, Owens, who came to Auburn as a tailback and played there as a freshman, practiced at that position on Tuesday as the Tigers worked out for two hours in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Michael Owens

The senior normally gets his playing time on special teams with some spot duty at fullback behind Brandon Johnson, who is also sidelined with an ankle injury.

"Playing tailback again is pretty exciting for me," says Owens, who adds that it would be special to be a difference-maker in his last Auburn vs. Alabama game. Owens has 13 carries this season for 68 yards with one touchdown. In his first three seasons, he had just 21 carries for 52 yards and no touchdowns.

Marshall Thornton is a senior from Jonesboro, Georgia.

With Owens working at tailback, walk-on Marshall Thornton moves up the depth chart at fullback. The Tigers are also going to use backup tight end Cooper Wallace like a fullback, notes Owens, who says he is going to spend several hours each evening the next few days going over his assignments at tailback to make sure he has everything down pat for the 2:30 p.m. kickoff at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

In a tailback-oriented offense, who gets the start at the position is a rather important detail. If the Tigers were playing a game at midweek, the man carrying the main load would be true freshman Smith. However, he says by game-time he won't be surprised to see Brown back at the top of the depth chart. "I am pretty sure Ronnie will come back," Smith says. "If they put me in (as the No. 1 tailback) I will give it 100 percent."

Smith says if that happens, he will consider it a fun assignment, nothing nervous. "I don't get nervous with stuff like that," he says, nothing he played before more than 86,000 fans last Saturday vs. Georgia as well as a national TV audience and had no problems in that game.

Tre Smith runs a drill at practice.

Smith has shown no signs of nerves at anytime so far this season. He has 49 carries for 318 yards. His average of 6.5 yards per carry is the best among the tailbacks and he has scored three rushing touchdowns and one on a pass reception. Smith has six catches for 96 yards.

At Venice, Fla., High School last year, Smith averaged 9.9 yards per carry as an All-State back who rushed for 1,776 yards after gaining 1,886 as a junior he was named Class 6A Player of the Year in Florida. Owens came to AU with impressive high school numbers, too. At Deshler High in Tuscumbia, he was named Alabama Player of the Year in 1999 by the Birmingham News after rushing for 2,126 yards as a senior.

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories