Auburn football: Looking at the Tigers' running backs for 2014

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 18, 2014 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne returns this fall as one of the many candidates vying to replace Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason.

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

Editor's note: The 2013 season is in the books. Any underclassmen eligible for the NFL draft have decided whether to return to school or pursue a pro career. And national signing day is drawing closer by the day. With that in mind, Auburn beat writer Ryan Black breaks down the team's 2014 roster, going position-by-position and giving his take on each spot's future. The series continues with the Tigers' running backs.

Who's Staying: Corey Grant, senior: 66 carries, 647 yards (9.8 ypc), six touchdowns

Cameron Artis-Payne, senior: 91 carries, 610 yards (6.7 ypc), six TDs

Johnathan Ford, sophomore: Six carries, 73 yards (12.2 ypc) TD

Peyton Barber, redshirt freshman: No stats; redshirted in 2013

Who's Leaving: Tre Mason: 317 carries, 1,816 yards (5.7 ypc), 23 TDs; yardage was single-season school record; rushing touchdowns set single-season school mark and tied Florida's Tim Tebow (2007) for most in SEC history

Who's Coming In: Kamryn Pettway, freshman: 169 carries, 1,402 rushing yards, 17 TDs (Numbers from senior season at Prattville High School in Prattville, Ala.)

Racean Thomas, freshman: 2,211 yards and 32 TDs (Numbers from senior season at Oxford High School in Oxford, Ala.)

Outlook: It would be a difficult task for any team to replace the type of numbers Mason produced last season.

Good thing the Tigers won't put that pressure on the shoulders of any one player.

In Artis-Payne and Grant, Auburn returns two seniors who made the most of their time on the field in 2013. Though the season started out as a three-headed rushing attack, it soon transformed into a dynamic duo (Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall), leaving Artis-Payne and Grant to enter games on an as-needed basis. The two seniors will enter the spring at the top of the depth chart by virtue of their experience and contributions — that's for certain.

It's far more interesting to ponder how the other carries are divvied up.

After spending a season on the sideline, the spring will give Barber his first chance to make a real push for playing time. A teammate of Carl Lawson at Milton High School just northwest of Atlanta, Barber ran for more than 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns during his senior season. Arriving on campus at 217 pounds, he's reportedly added 10-plus pounds of muscle to tip the scales at nearly 230 — and that's without losing any of his speed or elusiveness.

If nothing else, Barber has the bloodlines to be a top-notch running back: his cousin, Marion Barber III, was a stellar player at Minnesota (running for 3,276 yards and 35 touchdowns from 2001-04) and spending seven seasons in the NFL (six with the Cowboys and one with the Bears) before announcing his retirement in 2012.

Barber's fellow Class of 2013 signee, Ford, is a bigger question mark. For no reason of his own, of course; rather, it's on the Tigers' coaching staff. As of the BCS championship game, the Big Cove, Ala., native still had no idea whether he'd play offense or defense next year. His status should clear up a bit more this spring, but in limited touches (six) in 2013, Ford showcased his explosiveness by tallying 73 yards.

Things will become even more crowded when Thomas and Pettway join the fray.

Thomas is considered a no-doubt-about-it, can't-miss prospect, and as such, he should see playing time right off the bat. Could he even win the starting job? Never count anything out.

While Pettway is a fine player in his own right, if things shake out accordingly, he'll probably find himself in the same situation Barber was last season: redshirting and using the fall as a time to learn, put on (or lose) the right amount of weight and count down the days to the following spring.

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