ROME, Ga. — Tim Horton knows Auburn's running backs better than anyone.
But even he isn't sure who would get the starting nod in the backfield if Auburn opened its season this week.
"I really don’t have a good answer, to be honest. It would be one of the two veterans," Horton said, referring to the senior duo of Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. "They both had good springs. They both had good spring games. They both did a great job taking care of the ball. And I think if we played today, you’d see both of them play. Now who’s the first one out there? It would probably be determined by what play we were doing."
The keynote speaker at the West Georgia Auburn Club's event in Rome, Ga., Monday night, Horton also expressed confidence in Grant's durability. Auburn's running backs coach believed Grant has unfairly been labeled as solely a "speed" option — though to be fair, the Opelika, Ala., native was unofficially clocked running the 40-yard dash in under 4.2 seconds last Saturday. To back up his assertion that Grant could be an every-down back, Horton pointed to last season. Grant averaged 9.8 yards per carry, finishing with 647 yards and six touchdowns. All in all, both he and Artis-Payne (who ran for 610 yards and six scores) had great seasons, Horton said.
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Tre Mason's excellence just obscured that.
"Their lack of playing time is not a reflection of them as much as it was how good Tre was doing," Horton said. "We feel really comfortable and confident in both of those guys and we feel real good about what Peyton (Barber) is bringing to the table as well."
And that's the same way Horton felt about the running back competition. Like last year, there's no separation among the top candidates at the end of the spring.
Just as it did in 2013, however, Horton believed it would work itself out this fall.
"I think each season has its own chapter, its own book, its own rebirthing and I think that’s what you’ll see this year," he said. "Who’s going to rise to the top? Is it going to be a system where you play more than one main guy? Is it going to be where you play two or three? I don’t know if we that answer at the end of April. I think that’s something that’ll be determined by a lot of different factors. ... But we feel like our running backs should be one of the strengths of the team."