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March 19, 2012

Spring Preview: Running Backs

Auburn enters spring practice with three scholarship running backs on the roster. Just like running backs coach Curtis Luper likes it.

Sure, the leading running back for the past two seasons, Micahel Dyer, is gone, but the Tigers have recruited the position well enough to not miss the former Freshman All-American.

Well, maybe not as much.

It helps having Onterio McCalebb and his 3,341 all-purpose yards and 22 touchdowns, and Tre Mason, who compiled 633 all-purpose yards last season as a freshman. Throw in former Rivals100 running back Mike Blakely, who sat out last season after transferring from Florida, and Luper sees a trio of scholarship backs that will fill the void left by Dyer.

"I am very excited," said Luper. "I'm very excited to have these guys in the backfield."

Particularly McCalebb, the senior.

"He will be the first player that I have coached for four years," said Luper. "He has a special place in my heart, and looking at him and his statistics, I think he is an overachiever in several ways.

"He's got over 3,000 yards of total offense in the SEC, and he's only 170 pounds. That's a lot of heart, a lot of desire and a lot of speed."

In 2011, McCalebb had 112 carries, an average of less than nine per game, but he also had 32 receptions for 344 yards and two touchdowns. In McCalebb's first two years at Auburn, he had a total of 13 receptions.

"He's got good hands and he continues to improve them," Luper said. "We are going to keep making him a focal point in the passing game because he's such a mismatch out of the backfield for opposing defenses.

"There are a lot of things we are going to do with him. We are going to do a lot of things to maximize Onterio's talent and his contributions to this team."

Mason and Blakely are not experienced as McCalebb, but Luper thinks both will be important parts to the Tigers' running game in 2012.

"Tre has worked extremely hard in the 11 months that he has been here," said Luper. "He's worked hard on his body. He's worked hard in the classroom. He's 200 pounds. He's explosive. He's quick. He's tough. He has all of the intangibles and all of the tangibles to be a star in this league. He showed a little bit in the bowl game and we are confident he can get it done.

"Mike Blakely has the innate ability to start and stop. He can make you miss. He's dynamic in the open field. He's 206 pounds. He packs a punch and has great hands, but he has to learn to play the game. Tre had the entire summer and season to learn to play the game so he is way ahead of Mike, but Mike is ready to go. This spring will be really, really crucial for him."

The spring will be crucial for Auburn's entire offense. With former coordinator Gus Malzahn now the head coach at Arkansas State, the Tigers, under coordinator Scot Loeffler, will have a new look in 2012.

And Luper is looking forward to the change.

"I look forward to the quarterback being under center more," said Luper, who is in his fourth year at Auburn. "We were almost exclusive to shotgun before, and it was good, we still ran the ball effectively, but it will be good for us to get back under center and do some traditional downhill runs.

"We were physical, but I think it will make us a more physical offense and give us a more physical presence in the SEC. I also think it will help our defense out as well."

Helping lead the more traditional downhill rushing attack will be fullbacks Jay Prosch and Ladarius Phillips. Prosch, an All-American fullback at Illinois, transferred to Auburn for the spring semester and will be eligible to play immediately because of a family illness.

"We will live by the fullback-lead and two-back offense," said Luper. "Prosch will change things for us. There aren't many guys like him out there. When teams have to prepare for our I-formation led by Jay Prosch, it is going to be different than most of the league."

Auburn will have three scholarship running backs and two scholarship fullbacks in the spring. The Tigers will also have a walk-on, and not just any walk-on. Corey Grant, a former Rivals250 prospect, will begin his eligibility at Auburn this season after transferring from Alabama last year.

"We got a bonus," said Luper. "We will have three scholarship running backs this spring and a bonus in Corey. This spring will be important for him also and we think he can be a contributor soon.

"I'm very excited about the position and I'm ready to get out there and see what these guys do."

And so are the Auburn fans.

The Tigers' first of 15 spring practices is Friday.

Auburn's RB Depth Chart
Onterio McCalebb, Senior
Tre Mason, Sophomore
Mike Blakely, Redshirt Freshman
Corey Grant, Sophomore (Walk-on)

Auburn's FB Depth Chart
Jay Prosch, Junior
Ladarius Phillips, Sophomore

Auburn's 2012 RB Signee
Jovon Robinson, Freshman (scheduled to report in the summer)

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