Coaches like true freshman’s style
By ANDY BITTER
AUBURN, Ala. — A pecking order has emerged among Auburn’s running backs, and it’s not the picture coaches painted in the offseason.
Days after he had career highs with 23 carries and 100 yards, Mike Dyer officially ascended to the top of the depth chart, a promotion on paper only, considering the freshman started Auburn’s previous two games.
“We felt confident enough to give him the ball 20-plus times the other night,” coach Gene Chizik said. “I think he’s getting better every week. We’ve just got to continue with that progression with him and continue to let him play and get the experience he needs.”
It’s a departure from Auburn’s offseason chatter, when senior Mario Fannin was trumpeted as the next in line of the Tigers’ great backs. Running backs coach Curtis Luper even promised a 1,000-yard season for Fannin.
But through four games, the senior has nine carries for 25 yards, two fumbles and a nagging left shoulder injury.
Though initially reluctant, Auburn’s coaches have admitted that Fannin is working some at H-back, something they were adamant he wouldn’t do last spring.
“He’s working everywhere, just like he always does,” Luper said matter-of-factly Wednesday. “He always has a role out on the perimeter for us and at tailback. It’s just a matter of health for him. We need to get him back 100 percent so he can get some confidence back.”
Although Fannin’s shoulder injury, a recurring problem, has contributed to the shift, Dyer’s decisive, straight-line running has caught the coaches’ eyes. At 5-foot-9, 215 pounds, he runs low to the ground, a no-nonsense style that allows him to get tough yards.
The only quality lacking on his resume is the experience, something Auburn is determined to get him.
“I think you’ve got to get tailbacks in those grooves to get that vision and get that feel for the game,” Chizik said.
Those unconvinced that it’s Dyer’s show need to look at how the coaches reacted to two fumbles in last Saturday’s game.
Fannin, who had trouble securing the ball because of a harness he wore to protect his injured shoulder, had the ball knocked loose in the first quarter. It was his first and only carry.
Dyer followed suit in the second quarter, getting upended as the ball squirted loose at the end of his fourth carry. South Carolina recovered in Auburn territory and went on to score a touchdown.
Instead of getting time on the bench, Dyer got 19 more carries.
“As far as Mike, that’s the first time he’s put the ball on the ground since he’s been here, so we don’t think it’s a chronic problem,” Luper said. “But we want to make sure we nip in the bud. … He naturally has good ball security.”
Luper said the problem was that Dyer got elevated.
“I like him to be on the ground,” he said, emphasizing the last word of that sentence. “Both feet on … the … ground.”
Sophomore Onterio McCalebb remains a speed threat, especially on the perimeter, although Luper called him a complement to quarterback Cam Newton and Dyer, who will be expected to handle the bulk of the rushing load.
McCalebb, who has 280 yards on 38 carries, has a habit of going too fast at times.
“He’s a mile a minute, and a lot of times his feet are out from under him before he knows it,” Luper said. “I just want him to slow down a little bit initially and on his cuts.”
It’s just one more reason to believe Dyer will continue to carry more of the workload.
Said Newton: “He’s growing up before our eyes.”