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Spring lessons learned: Auburn will have strong running back duo

All the talk about running back depth and sexy impact players is usually directed toward Tuscaloosa, with TJ Yeldon and their nasty six-man depth chart. That is quite mind-blowing.

But one of the biggest lessons learned this spring is that Auburn will have a very solid and hype-worthy duo, too. Returning starter Tre Mason and newcomer Cameron Artis-Payne are certainly competing for the right to start, but they know that together both can form one of the best running back tandems in the SEC.

“We’re a team,” Artis-Payne said. “We don’t think about that [who will win the starting job], we encourage each other. We’re not worried about that.”

Knowing Gus Malzahn and his offense, he plays two running backs and caters to each player’s strengths.

Mason is the lightning of the combo – a burner, shifty back who can make defenders miss in the open field and turn it on to get behind any defender. Mason was the offense’s only bright spot in 2012, rushing for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns on 171 carries. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry, making him a true threat in Malzahn’s offense.

Mason surprised in 2012 as a formidable between-the-tackles runner despite his lack of size at 5-10, 195 pounds. He’ll best be used in Malzahn’s system, which has a knack for getting players in space. That’s where Mason excels.

Artis-Payne, on the other hand, is a bowling ball cross between Ben Tate and Michael Dyer. He may not be as athletically elite as Dyer, but he looks every bit as good as Tate, especially wearing the same number as Tate – No. 44.

Artis-Payne is built to take the pounding day-in and day-out at 5-11, 210 pounds, and he rushed for 117 yards on 18 carries with one touchdown in Saturday’s A-Day Game. He also showed his versatility in becoming a weapon out of the backfield with two catches for 47 yards. CAP rushed for over 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns at Allan Hancock JUCO before enrolling early at Auburn.

He’ll be the jelly to Mason’s peanut butter in the Tigers’ backfield, creating one of the stronger running back tandems in the SEC.

The Tigers finished ninth in the conference in rushing offense, and the Mason and Artis-Payne combo bodes well for a much-improved running game and overall offense.

Photo Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports