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April 10, 2014

Still grinding


AUBURN | Cameron Artis-Payne displayed a confident face earlier this week when asked about his chances to carry the ground-game load this fall.

His attitude is justified.

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Thursday that Artis-Payne, a rising senior who will turn 24 this summer, has approached his task with remarkable focus since arriving more than a year ago. Though Tre Mason ultimately became the Tigers' featured back last spring, Artis-Payne's stock never waned in the coaches' eyes.

"Cam's a pro. Cam was a pro last year," Lashlee said. "He practices like a pro. He comes to meetings everyday, he's the same everyday. He doesn't have bad days. He's always attentive. He's always doing everything Coach (Tim) Horton asks him to do. We had confidence in Cam last year."

The race to become Auburn's featured back in 2014, at least for now, appears to involve three players: Artis-Payne, fellow senior Corey Grant and redshirt freshman Peyton Barber.

Grant was used primarily as the speed back last season and thrived in that role. He led the team with 9.8 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns on just 66 carries. The Opelika High graduate said this spring has been different for him in a good way - and it's not just because he's getting a chance to show his value as an every-down back.

"(I'm) just … working on things here and there," Grant said. "The offense, it's slowed down from last spring to this spring, so it's not really alignment and assignment. It's more just technique and making sure I keep pad level down and just play fast."

Observers see Barber, who worked on the scout team last season, as one of the Tigers' biggest spring surprises. Lashlee and coach Gus Malzahn also have been complimentary.

Still, can one of Auburn's newcomers (Racean Thomas and Kamryn Pettway) jump up the depth chart during fall camp? Lashlee said Thursday that it's not out of the question.

"We've had … guys in the past that as a true freshman were ready and we kind of eased them into it," Lashlee said. "Sometimes earlier in the year they got more or as the year went on they got more or their workload increased. We'll have to see how that goes when those two get here and see how they respond, but we're counting on them to come in and compete and want to play and want to play now."

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