War Eagle Extra

Tim Horton: 'No question' Auburn running back battle stretches into fall camp

AUBURN, Ala.Jovon Robinson, Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber have all been given an equal opportunity to become Auburn's next starting running back. Through nine practices this spring, however, there hasn't been a smidgen of separation between them.

But running backs coach Tim Horton isn't complaining.

"It's been very competitive and it's really good competition. Obviously, we don't have to play tomorrow, so a decision hasn't been made there in terms of who's our starting tailback," Horton said Wednesday. "But real pleased with how all three are doing and I think it will be a position of strength for us. We're going to have three good running backs."

Depending on the practice, Horton says one member of the trio moves to the top of the depth chart in his mind. The problem is, that hypothetical pecking order seems to change by the day.

"There are some days that I'll leave the field and I'll say, 'Boy, ol' so-and-so, he jumped to the top today.' And then the next day, it'll be another one," Horton said. "They're all three good players. They've all got a lot of talent. So there's not one that has really jumped to the top yet."

Not that Horton is unfamiliar with these types of battles. This marks the third straight spring he's entered with the identity of the lead running back shrouded in uncertainty. Eventually, Tre Mason (in 2013) and Cameron Artis-Payne (last year) asserted themselves.

And both thrived.

Mason ran for 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns — both single-season school records — two years ago, numbers good enough to make him a Heisman Trophy finalist. Artis-Payne didn't quite reach that level last season — "settling" for 1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns. Even so, those 1,608 yards made Artis-Payne the SEC's leading rusher in 2014.

As much as the Tigers relied on Mason and Artis-Payne in those respective seasons, Horton isn't sure this fall will unfold the same way.

"You know, it's interesting how it's all played out over the course of the last two years, because going into it, both years I didn't know we would have the one that really took the bulk of the time," he said. "This year, I'm thinking we could legitimately play three running backs, so we'll see how it all plays out. We'll see what cream rises to the top. But I know I have confidence in all three of those guys."

So those hoping for clarity at the position will have to keep waiting.

It's not coming any time soon.

"Oh, definitely. It will," Horton replied when asked whether he saw the battle stretching into fall camp. "No question about it."