Auburn Deep at Running Back
By Freddie Vickers
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Although young, this Auburn running back unit can have a huge year with the blocking of Jay Prosch and the development of an offensive line that returns three starters.
Most college football fans would expect the loss of a top notch running back like Michael Dyer to send a team’s coaching staff scouring the depth chart looking for replacements. Fortunately for Gene Chizik and the Auburn Tigers, the running back position may actually be better due to the departure of Dyer. New talented players will now have the ability to compete for carries that, if Dyer was present, they would definitely not get.
Dyer burst on the scene in 2010 as a true freshman and was instrumental in the Tiger’s run to the Fiesta Bowl. He rushed for 1,093 yards and five touchdowns in his first year at Auburn. Those rushing yards were enough to break the school’s freshman rushing record, previously held by Bo Jackson. Dyer put up huge numbers in the BCS National Championship Game versus Oregon, rushing for 143 yards on 22 carries, on his way to being named the Offensive Player of the Game. His fourth quarter run, where it looked like he was tackled by the Duck defense, was definitely the biggest play of the game. After Dyer’s run, Auburn would set up inside Oregon’s five yard line and eventually kick the winning field goal.
Dyer came back in 2011, his sophomore season, and put up 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns. Dyer was selected as an All-SEC performer by the Associated Press and the coaches of the Southeastern Conference. Unfortunately for Auburn, Dyer was suspended before the Tigers' appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and subsequently followed Gus Malzahn back to his home state of Arkansas when Malzahn accepted the head coaching position at Arkansas State.
The loss of a player as dominant as Dyer would affect the running back depth chart at any school in the country. Fortunately for new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, the Tigers have a depth chart full of talented running backs who are ready to step up and try their hand at replacing Dyer.
Onterio McCalebb is the frontrunner to get the bulk of the action when the Tigers kick off September 1 versus the Clemson Tigers. McCalebb, the 5’11”, 175 pound senior, is a career 2,000 yard rusher, despite having limited carries up to this point. McCalebb has big play ability, as he has amassed eight touchdown runs of over 48 yards in his career. McCalebb did take a slight step back in 2011. In 2010, his sophomore year, McCalebb put up the best numbers in any of his three years on the Plains. He will definitely be a solid contributor and will be looked upon for leadership from his new offensive coordinator.
Mason saw increased carries in the Chick-fil-A Bowl due to the suspension of Dyer. Mason put up decent numbers, rushing for 64 yards on nine carries, and picking up his lone rushing touchdown of the year. Mason’s biggest attribute is his ability in the return game. He had a solid season in 2011 returning kicks, as he had 24 returns for 633 yards and a touchdown. His 97 yard return for a touchdown in the second quarter versus Utah State got the Tigers back in the game. Mason is set up to have a big year, as Loeffler will find ways to get him the football in open space.
Grant spent all of his freshman year on the Auburn practice squad. At 5’11’, 193 pounds, Grant his nice size and speed, enabling Grant to work between the tackles but break it outside as well. Grant was ranked as the fifth rated all purpose running back and the fifth ranked player in the state of Alabama when he came out of Opelika High School in 2010.
This could be the wild card on the running back depth chart. Blakely enrolled at the University of Florida in 2011, and actually completed the first semester of that year in Gainesville. Blakely is a bowling ball at 5’9” and 206 pounds, and could pay dividends in the passing game as well as running between the tackles. Blakely was rated as the number six running back nationally and was the 13th-ranked player in the state of Florida when he came out of Bradenton, Florida in 2010. Blakely rushed for more than 1,400 yards and 23 touchdowns as a high school junior, and with a nagging ankle injury as a senior, still put up over 1,000 yards.
Prosch, who is a transfer fullback from Illinois, has acquired immediate eligibility and will be on the field for the Tigers in 2012. While at Illinois, Prosch played in 13 games as a freshman, while starting seven. Prosch was the lead blocker for all-conference running back Mikel Leshoure. The Illini had the top rushing attack in the Big Ten in 2010, led by the blocking of Prosch. As a sophomore, Prosch played in 12 games, starting five. Prosch is also a beast on special teams, as he recorded 11 tackles in 2011. Prosch is a throwback type of player who won’t shy away from contact and will bring some much needed physicality to this Auburn offense.
Loeffler will bring a pro-style attack to the Plains in 2012, and it certain that he will emphasize the running game, as was shown by the huge numbers that Temple running back Bernard Pierce put up in 2011. Loeffler will use multiple formations and quite a bit of motion in an effort to overload a particular side and gain angles, which not only confuses the defense, but can also lead to big plays in the running game. Loeffler has at his disposal one of the deepest running back stables in the SEC. Although young, this Auburn running back unit can have a huge year with the blocking of Jay Prosch and the development of an offensive line that returns three starters.