AUBURN, Ala. — Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are, without question, 1 and 1A on Auburn's running back depth chart. After all, that's how it was listed Tuesday when the Tigers released their two-deep.
Now the question is, who's No. 3?
At the moment, it's still a bit unclear. But that's not necessarily a bad thing — quite the opposite.
Gus Malzahn believes his team has two legitimate options as the next-in-line behind Artis-Payne and Grant.
"We've got, of course, Roc Thomas. He's got a chance right there to be in the game," the coach said of the true freshman. "He's also got a chance to be a kick returner. (Redshirt freshman) Peyton Barber obviously has a chance. We really don't have a 'Who's No. 3?' or 'Who's No. 4?' We have specific things that we feel both of those guys can do well."
Rhett Lashlee is equally confident in the pair. It comes with a bit of a caveat, though. Sure, the offensive coordinator acknowledged, they both have "prepared and practiced" exactly the way he'd like.
At the same time, neither has played in a game at the college level.
"We feel like they're as prepared as they can be to hold onto the football. That's the No. 1 thing you worry about," Lashlee said. "How many pass protections situations you put them in might be different as opposed to the older guys, but they have done it a lot. We feel good about them, and so it'll just be a matter of, hey, take your lumps a little bit when you're young. But I think they both have confidence. We have confidence in them, so we've got no reservations about playing them."
After watching them during fall camp and talking with running backs coach Tim Horton, Lashlee feels both will play well. Those "typical freshman mistakes" will come, too. The coaching staff is willing to live with that.
As the well-worn axiom goes, a player only learns through experience.
"Peyton redshirted last year and Roc is a true freshman so you never know how those guys will handle themselves," Lashlee said. "Just in terms of the game slowing down for both of them and feeling like they are going to know the game plan enough to play, they have done a good job in ball security. So, you feel good about those guys, but there is just a lot of unknown until they play. Really, with freshmen, when their time comes you've got to throw them in there and let them figure it out."