Luper Looking For Production Out Of RB's

Auburn running back coach Curtis Luper talks about having to replace Ben Tate this spring.

Auburn, Ala.--One of the biggest issues surrounding spring football at Auburn is who is going to take over for Ben Tate at running back? With Mario Fannin, Onterio McCalebb and Dontae Aycocks all vying for the position, coach Curtis Luper said so far nothing has been settled after just four days on the field and one short scrimmage situation last Saturday.

"It's a work in progress," Luper said. "We're not where we want to be, but we'll be there in September. We've got some healthy competition at the position.

"It was cold and the wind was blowing," he added about last Saturday‘s practice. "It was the first time in the stadium. The first time in pads. They were overzealous a little bit. It was the first time in pads. They just have to slow down. It will be about two weeks before I can make a good assessment of the guys. We have the talent. That's a good start."

The talent starts with the senior Fannin. One of Auburn's most versatile players in his first three seasons on the field, this spring the 5-11, 230 Fannin finally gets a chance to win the starting tailback job. So far Luper said Fannin is doing well in his new role.

"He's responding well to the competition," Luper said. "He wants to be the number one guy. We don't have a depth chart set now, but when we go out he goes out first and then Onterio goes out second. He's comfortable there and he's getting more comfortable every day.

"In this offense it's a matter of getting comfortable with the tempo," he added. "Everything is expedited because we go so fast. The whole thought process is expedited because we go so fast. It will take about two weeks for him to get comfortable there. Once he gets comfortable then we'll be able to see the talents that got has given him."

Onterio McCalebb has gained size and muscle since last season.

Another talented player fighting for the job is the speedy sophomore McCalebb. Dealing with injuries much of his freshman season, he still managed to show why he could be a serious weapon for the Tigers on offense when healthy. Luper said now bigger and stronger, he's looking for more durability out of McCalebb beginning this spring.

"He still needs to learn how to play running back in this league," Luper said. "He's so fast that he wants to East and West. The emphasis for him this spring is to get North and South, get vertical with the football. When he came here he may have been 160 so he's gained 15 pounds in a year.

"We would like for him to get about 10 more between now and September if he could. He's working hard. For him it's his health. If he's healthy then he can help us. If not he's a detriment to us offensively. I think it all goes hand in hand. Gain some weight and get stronger then he's more apt to be healthy."

Looking back on it, I don't think there's much doubt that Auburn's asking Tristan Davis to gain weight to play running back proved to be a detriment for a player that was already strong enough to handle the rigors of SEC football. McCalebb however is on the other end of that spectrum as the increased strength should only serve to make him even more dangerous on the field.

"He will actually get stronger," Luper said. "If he's stronger and gains weight he'll probably get faster. He's not going from 160 to 260. He's going from 160 to about 190 ultimately. He'll be as fast or faster."

As for Aycock, the former high school quarterback missed Monday's practice with an illness and the reps that go with a spring practice. Luper said it was unfortunate for Aycock as he needs the work more than any of the backs this spring.

The Tigers will likely have another scrimmage situation this Saturday.

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