As the featured running back last season Tate ran for 1,362 yards on 263 carries (5.2 yards per carry) and scored 10 touchdowns. Those numbers will be tough to duplicate, but there is little question that senior Mario Fannin has the physical tools to equal or even surpass them if things fall into place in 2010.
Playing mostly wide receiver as a junior, Fannin carried the ball just 34 times but managed to gain 284 yards. That's an average of 8.4 yards per carry for the season.
In fact, for his career, Fannin has averaged 5.6 yards per carry and is just 29 yards shy of 1,000 yards. His biggest season carrying the ball came as a redshirt freshman in 2007 when he ran for 448 yards and five touchdowns on 84 carries. After dealing with shoulder problems early in his career that signaled a move to wide receiver initially, Fannin is healthy and ready for a big year in 2010.
"Mario has a lot of ability," offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn says. "I think that everybody knows that." The coach says based on what he saw of Fannin in 2009 and in spring training this year he believes the running back can put up big numbers as a senior.
Onterio McCalebb is one of Auburn's fastest players.
Something that should help Auburn's fortunes running the football this season is a bigger and stronger Onterio McCalebb. Playing last season at 165 pounds, the speedster still managed to have a very good first year with 565 yards and four touchdowns on 105 carries. Unfortunately for the freshman an ankle injury suffered against Ball State hurt his production greatly the rest of the way as he became a shell of himself in the final eight games of the year.
In the first five games of the 2009 season McCalebb ran the ball 67 times for 416 yards and three touchdowns. Missing two games completely the rest of the season he had just 149 yards on 38 carries. His lack of production hurt Auburn's offense as teams were able to load up on Tate and the power game.
Michael Dyer is an Under Armour All-American.
With redshirt freshman Dontae Aycock leaving the team after not making a move into the playing rotation during spring practice, there is little doubt that incoming freshman Michael Dyer will be counted on to provide depth and a punch in the running game immediately.
That's what he was brought in for out of Little Rock (Ark.) Christian Academy after setting the state record with 8,097 rushing yards and 84 touchdowns. As a senior he ran for 2,502 yards and 31 touchdowns despite being a marked man on offense. A physical runner with the body to take some punishment, Dyer should team u with Fannin and McCalebb in the Auburn backfield to give the Tigers three different type of backs at the tailback spot.
Eric Smith can play multiple spots for the Tigers.
One of the keys to Auburn's offense will be the play of junior running back Eric Smith. A hybrid fullback/tight end in Malzahn's offensive system, Smith ran the ball just 20 times for 99 yards last season and has 41 carries for 182 yards in his career. Where he makes his mark is catching the football and acting as a lead blocker. In 11 games last year Smith caught 18 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown.
In addition to Smith there is a good chance that sophomore tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen will see some time in the backfield in a similar role as a H-Back who blocks and catches the ball.
Ladarious Phillips is a super-sized running back.
That leaves the wildcard of the backfield in 2010 for Auburn, massive incoming freshman Ladarious Phillips from Handley (Roanoke) High. At 6-0 and around 285 pounds, Phillips has a Ron Dayne look to him in the backfield as he has the ability to make some plays carrying the ball.
As a senior he ran for 1,145 yards and scored 16 touchdowns on just 141 carries. He also added 59 tackles and eight sacks as a defensive tackle. That could be his future home if he's unable to keep his weight down but this fall expect him to get his first look on offense.