Cameron Artis-Payne exudes confidence in midst of three-way running back battle

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comApril 18, 2014 

Cameron Artis-Payne took reps the reps at running back with the first-team offense in Auburn's first practice of the spring on Tuesday.

TODD VAN EMST — Auburn University

AUBURN, Ala.Cameron Artis-Payne has no idea where he stands on Auburn’s running back depth chart.

He’s fine with being in the dark, though. Besides, it’s not as if any of the other candidates for the job have been treated any differently.

“We actually haven’t gotten any updates, so if you know something let me know,” Artis-Payne said with a laugh. “Everybody just continues working. We don’t really know too much at this point.”

And that’s been the plan all along.

"Well, we're not going to name any starters in the middle of spring ball. We just don't do that,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “We know as coaches where everybody's at in our eyes."

Artis-Payne doesn’t have any worries about how the coaching staff views him. When first asked about his play this spring, he replied he felt “good.” A moment later, he went a step further, and said he felt “great.”

It’s the type of attitude Lashlee relishes.

“Love it. Cam's a pro. Cam was a pro last year,” the coach said. “He practices like a pro. What that means, he comes to meetings every day. He's the same every day. He doesn't have bad days. He's always attentive. He's always trying to get better.”

As confident as he was, though, the rising senior knows he won’t be able to determine his own playing time this fall.

“That’s up to the coaches,” Artis-Payne said. “That’s something where they will watch film and see what they like and see what we need to work on. Everybody is fighting for that role. At the end, it’s ultimately the coaches’ decision. You just have to keep working.”

While Lashlee nor head coach Gus Malzahn has yet to drop any hints to the three combatants vying for the position — Artis-Payne, fellow senior Corey Grant and redshirt freshman Peyton Barber — as to their place on the depth chart, the Pennsylvania native has enjoyed the battle.

“It’s a good thing. You’ve got a bunch of a good running backs in a room and everybody’s trying to push each other,” Artis-Payne said. “Everybody wants to be the guy to step up and be the lead back. It’s a healthy competition. We all feed off of it.”

Still, if Artis-Payne gets his way, he’ll eventually be named the lead back — the sooner, the better. That’s why he took it upon himself this spring to develop the kind of synergy with quarterback Nick Marshall that Heisman finalist Tre Mason had last season.

“You’ve always got to have a connection with the leader of your offense,” he said. “Nick is the unquestioned leader of our offense. Everybody is trying to build a strong bond with Nick — especially with the zone read being a big part of our offense. We’ve got to get that down pat.”

With the arrival of highly-touted junior college receiver D’haquille Williams along with the return of Marshall and a bevy of pass-catchers, the Tigers are expected to put the ball in the air more next season. Knowing that, Artis-Payne has worked to perfect his pass blocking.

After all, that may be the difference in starting versus coming off the bench.

“Honestly, everybody (has been) willing to stick their nose in there,” he said. “Everybody is aggressive when it comes to pass blocking because we know that’s a major part of getting on the field. Everybody is taking a big jump with that. We have grown in pass blocking and we haven’t blown too many assignments in that, either. We’re doing good in that area.”

Last season, Artis-Payne was Auburn’s third-leading rusher, running for 610 yards and six touchdowns on 91 carries. No one topped him at last year’s A-Day, however, as he had game-highs in rushes (18) and yards (137).

Not surprisingly, that performance earned him the game’s offensive MVP award.

When asked whether he could repeat that effort Saturday, Artis-Payne left nothing to chance.

An unerring belief in himself — the same conviction that may help him become the Tigers’ next premier running back — came to the fore once more.

“I don’t think I’m going to need as many touches as I did last year,” he said.

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