While most of the talk among Auburn fans centers on the quarterback position, Tre Mason's (Fr. RB) place on the depth chart has largely flown under the radar. There's no arguing that Michael Dyer is clearly Auburn's top tailback and Onterio McCalebb has established himself as a great change of pace guy in Gus Malzahn's offense.
But there are beginning to be whispers that Mason should have a bigger role in the offense.
Through the first six game of the season the Lake Worth, Florida native has played as advertised. Ranked as the 14th best running back nationally out of high school, Mason has impressed coaches and fans with his speed and has become a major threat on special teams.
Averaging more than 28 yards per return, Mason has Auburn ranked second in the SEC in kickoff returns. However, his success returning kicks has not resulted in more carries at tailback. Through the first half of the season, Mason has only 12 carries for 64 yards, despite averaging 5.3 yards a touch.
By comparison, Dyer has124 carries for 679 yards, while McCalebb has rushed for 312 yards on 56 carries. Both are also averaging more than five yards a carry.
The dilemma for Malzahn is how to get the ball in Mason's hands more often. There's no easy answer. At the end of the day, as talented as he is, those in front of Mason are better - for now.
Dyer enters Saturday night's game with Florida ranked 16th nationally and third in the SEC in rushing. He's gone over 100 yards in all three conference games this year. He sits a little more than 300 yards from topping the 1,000 yard mark for the season. When his playing days at Auburn are over, Dyer will likely be the leading rusher in school history.
For Mason this is a fact of life - something he'll have to deal with for the next 2 ½ years.
Of course, this doesn't mean a career on the bench for the talented freshman. Looking back a few years, former Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges was masterful in his use of Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown - often showcasing them in the backfield together at the same time.
As Mason continues to improve, his role on offense will likely grow, despite Dyer's solidified position as top dog. We've seen it work at other places including Alabama, where coaches successfully rotated Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
With a sputtering passing game, look for Mason's carries to increase in the coming weeks, maybe even Saturday against the Gators. For better or worse, Auburn's passing woes could provide an opportunity for Malzahn's newest stud.
Running Back U. is alive and well in Auburn, Alabama.
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