Onterio McCalebb returns for his senior season
At Auburn, tailbacks carry the burden of history. Since Monk Gafford became Auburn's first 1,000-yard rusher with 1,004 yards in 1942, no position has produced more Auburn heroes. Mike Dyer broke the 1,000-yard barrier as a freshman and as a sophomore, an Auburn first, and was the named the outstanding offensive player in a 22-19 win over Oregon in the BCS Championship Game at the end of the 2010 season. But he was suspended after the 2011 regular season and left for Arkansas State.
There is ample talent in line to take his place. All five Auburn tailbacks were 4-star recruits. Junior fullback Jay Prosch , a junior who was an All-American at Illinois last season, will clear the way for the chosen ones if the NCAA rules he is eligible to play immediately.
But who will be the bellcow?
McCalebb will certainly play a major role, but at 170 pounds, he's not likely to be an every-down back who runs often into the teeth of the defense. The other four will compete in preseason practice to join him. Running backs coach Curtis Luper will look not just for the fastest, but for the toughest and the most reliable.
"This is a physical league," Luper said. "Our intent is to lead this league in rushing. If you can lead the league in rushing and lead in rush defense, you'll probably be pretty good."
Auburn did that very thing in 2010, went 14-0 and won the national championship.
McCalebb has rushed for 2,016 yards on 312 carries in his Auburn career, an average of 6.5 yards per carry. He has scored 18 touchdowns. He emerged last season as a major receiving threat, catching 32 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns. The rest have much to do.
Mason rushed 28 times last season for 161 yards and a touchdown last season. They others have yet to gain a yard for Auburn.
"He's excited," Luper said. "He gets downhill. He has the ability to light it up on Saturdays."
Grant was the star runner in spring practice. Technically a walk-on because he transferred from Alabama without a release, Grant has hyper speed. And he wants to get faster.
"I really want to improve my explosiveness," Grant said, "so I can burst through the hole the line creates in front of me."
Blakeley signed with Florida in 2011 but transferred that spring. Robinson signed last February out of Wooddale High School in Memphis.
In less than two months, the competition will begin.
AUBURN'S 1,000-YARD CLUB
1985: Bo Jackson 278 for 1,786 yards
2000: Rudi Johnson 324 carries for 1,567 yards
2010: Cam Newton 264 carries for 1,473 yards
1986: Brent Fullwood 167 carries for 1,391 yards
2009: Ben Tate 263 carries for 1,362 yards
1980: James Brooks 261 carries for 1,314 yards
2003: Carnell Williams 241 carries for 1,307 yards
2005: Kenny Irons 256 carries for 1,293 yards
1994: Stephen Davis 221 carries for 1,263 yards
2011: Mike Dyer 242 carries for 1,242 yards
1983: Bo Jackson 148 carries for 1,213 yards
1979: James Brooks 162carries for 1,208 yards
1978: Joe Cribbs 253 carries for 1,205 yards
1993: James Bostic 199 carries for 1,205 yards
2010: Mike Dyer 182 carries for 1,093 yards
2004: Carnell Williams 239 carries for 1,165 yards
1979: Joe Cribbs 200 carries for 1,120 yards
1995: Stephen Davis 180 carries for 1,08 yards
2002: Ronnie Brown 175 carries for 1,006 yards
1963: Jimmy Sidle 185 carries for 1004 yards
1942: Monk Gafford 132 carries for 1004 yards