Let’s start here: even if this is Auburn, and even though we’re talking about the position of running back, so that even if it looks easier to replace Ben Tate than players like Antonio Coleman or Walt McFadden, this is arguably the single most important roster hole Chizik and Co. have to fill.
I know that’s supposed to be the Chris Todd-shaped one behind center, but this offense proved last year it can succeed without a game-changer at quarterback. (Not “blow people’s doors off” the way Auburn will need to take the next step in 2010, mind, but “succeed”? Yes.) Can it succeed without a Tate-style bell cow? Without that signature running back that can carry the ball 15 -20 times, catch it another five, and be both a breakaway threat and a battering ram on every one of those touches? We don’t know. And since Auburn needs a better defense but will live and die with their offense as long as Gus Malzahn’s in charge of it, that’s a big, big thing to not know.
With any luck 2010 won’t tell us the answer, because we’ll have another workhorse ready to keep us in the dark. And the most likely candidate to become that workhorse is Mario Fannin.
I’ve explained why already: we’ve seen what we need to see already. The speed, the power, the explosiveness, the hands, even the gradual shedding of the fumbling problems that cursed him in 2007 before the shoulder problem that cursed him 2008. All he needs is the opportunity, right?
Well, we don’t know for certain until he’s given that opportunity. And right now, this spring, that opportunity is being given to him. He’s a fifth-year senior, working at tailback alongside a redshirt freshman and a sophomore still–probably–too small to absorb 25 touches a game. The only other serious competition, most likely, will be a true freshman set to arrive in the fall.
All three of these competitors are immensely talented, and any of the three will likely be capable of handling the load asked of him this coming season. But Fannin seems most likely to do more than just handle the load. For him, it’s all built up to this. We find out between now and the close of A-Day if he’s as ready as we think he is.