Auburn Football: Sizing Up the Tigers' Spring Running Back Battle

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMarch 20, 2013

Auburn RB Tre Mason
Auburn RB Tre MasonKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Tre Mason broke the 1,000-yard mark at running back for the Auburn Tigers last season, extending Auburn's streak of producing at least one 1,000-yard running back to four straight years.

But what's done is done, and a new coaching staff means that every player on Auburn's roster will have a clean slate—Mason included.

First-year head coach Gus Malzahn gets labeled as a spread guru, but that's inaccurate. His offense is predicated on a downhill rushing attack, which in theory bodes well for Mason. 

Let's pump the brakes on that.

Malzahn likes to use various running backs in specific situations where they excel, so expect a little more variety in the backfield in 2013.

That's not to say that Mason won't be the feature back. He probably will be.

After all, rushing for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns in an offense in 2012 that was devoid of creativity counts for something. A lot, actually.

But there will still be talented running backs behind Mason fighting for carries when Auburn kicks off spring practice on March 27.

Cameron Artis-Payne signed with Auburn in the class of 2013 from junior college, and he enrolled early to begin his push for playing time. The 5'11", 212-pounder rushed for 2,048 yards and 25 touchdowns last season for Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, Calif. He's a physical back who can take the pounding between the tackles, and he will certainly contend for playing time this fall.

Whether he beats out Mason as the feature back or not, Artis-Payne will certainly push him for playing time—which is a good thing for the Tigers. 

Corey Grant is the wild card.

The 5'11", 200-pounder has blazing straight-line speed, and he could become the home run threat in the new-look Tigers offense. Grant transferred from Alabama after the 2010 season, and he only earned nine carries for 29 yards last season for the Tigers.

Is Grant similar to former Auburn running back Onterio McCalebb? No, but he possesses some similar skills, which could translate well in Malzahn's offense.

Johnathan Ford and Peyton Barber will join the competition this summer, which will give Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee more options. 

Don't be fooled by Mason's output in 2012. He's going to have to re-win the job now that Malzahn is back in town.

Auburn has some talented players chomping at the bit to earn carries, so expect this spring to be a battle on the Plains.