2009 Spring Football Preview: Running Backs

We take a look at the running back position in our next installment previewing Auburn's spring football practice.

Auburn, Ala.--While Gus Malzahn's offensive system is known for spreading the field and throwing the football, the biggest misperception about the hurry up/no huddle is the production from the running game.

It's no surprise that Malzahn's offense was very productive running the football during the 2006 season at Arkansas with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in the backfield, but looking at his two seasons at Tulsa it becomes obvious that the coach is a firm believer in being physical as well as diverse on offense.

In 2008 Tulsa's Tarrion Adams ran the ball 247 times for 1,523 yards and 14 touchdowns. He averaged 6.2 yard per carry and 108.8 yards per game. Behind him Jamad Williams carried it 86 times for 523 yards and three touchdowns. Using a myriad of backs and receivers to carry the ball as part of the offensive system, Malzahn's offense produced 3,752 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns for the season. The team averaged 268 yards per game on the ground and had nine different players rush for at least 100 yards for the season.

Those numbers were up from his first year at Tulsa as Adams ran for 1,225 yards and eight scores in 2007 as part of an attack that rushed for 2,421 yards and 28 touchdowns for the season. QB Paul Smith accounted for 13 of the rushing touchdowns as the team averaged 172.9 yards per game on the ground.

Mario Fannin breaks loose for a big gainer.

With veterans Ben Tate and Mario Fannin going through spring practice as well as sophomore Eric Smith and newcomer Onterio McCalebb position coach Curtis Luper will have four different types of backs to work with in his first spring with the Tigers.

Heading into his senior season, Tate has been the most consistent of Auburn's backs the last three seasons. In 2008 he carried the ball 159 times for 664 yards and scored three touchdowns. That brought his career total to 1,959 yards with 14 rushing touchdowns heading into his final season.

Tate was Auburn's leading rusher in a year when the Tigers barely equaled the output of Adams at Tulsa by himself. The Tigers had 1,650 yards and 12 scores on 469 carries. Playing wide receiver as well as running back, junior Mario Fannin carried the ball just 54 times for 238 yards and one touchdown, but could play a much bigger role in the offense in 2009.

A former high school quarterback, Fannin was used sparingly in the wildcat formation last season by Auburn, a formation that Malzahn incorporates liberally in his offense. Fannin could be a player that moves all over the field when not lining up in the backfield next season.

Eric Smith

Also returning is the little-used Smith. As a true freshman last season he carried the ball just 21 times for 83 yards. A physical runner with good feet, Smith isn't a breakaway threat, but has good hands that should be helpful in Malzahn's offense as a receiver.

The wildcard could be the true freshman McCalebb. Originally signing with the Tigers in 2008 out of high school, McCalebb played last season at Hargrave Military in Virginia before re-signing with the Tigers and enrolling in classes in January. An explosive player that has breakaway speed, McCalebb could be the perfect change of pace back for the power and vision of Tate, the versatility of Fannin, and the brute force of Smith.

Auburn opens spring practice on March 24 with the annual A-Day game scheduled for April 18.

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