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Cameron Artis-Payne vs. Corey Grant vs. Peyton Barber vs. "The Committee"
The battle to be the next feature back at Running Back U seems to be a dead heat between two rising seniors, a redshirt freshman and a return to the split-carry style Auburn used at the beginning of the 2013 season.
Head coach Gus Malzahn said Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant and Peyton Barber each got equal reps with both the first- and second-team units in Saturday's scrimmage. The trio ran by committee with the third team, and Malzahn said he was impressed with their work with each group.
"They protected the football, that was a good thing," he said. "Anytime you get out there and go scrimmage and you’re playing live, you can see protections and all the little things without the ball that we ask our running backs to do. That is very critical."
Artis-Payne finished last season with the third-most carries in the Auburn backfield, behind quarterback Nick Marshall and NFL-bound Tre Mason but had fewer yards than Grant. According to starting left guard Alex Kozan, Artis-Payne scored a rushing touchdown in the Tigers' scrimmage last Saturday on a draw play.
Both Artis-Payne and Grant have said they are trying to show they can be the all-around running back Auburn could use as the clear-cut starter. Artis-Payne was more of a power back in the Tigers' offense last season, but he showed some impressive agility in his touchdown run against Missouri at the 2013 SEC Championship Game.
Grant was primarily used on speed sweeps in the Tigers rushing attack last season, but he told the Montgomery Advertiser's James Crepea last week he is out to "establish" himself this spring and prove he "can run between the tackles."
Peyton Barber is the wild card of the running back race. The 5'11", 225-pound Alpharetta, Ga., native made an impression on both his coaches and teammates last season while he redshirted for the Tigers. Like Artis-Payne, Barber is built like a power running back, but he showed he could be dangerous in the open field during his high school days.