Friday, October 1, 2004 Updated: October 2, 10:47 AM ET
Unselfishness keys Auburn's fast start
By Ivan Maisel ESPN.com
Like Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney, Auburn senior tailbacks Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown are the best of friends. Barber and Maroney share a job. Williams and Brown often share a backfield. They're on the field together more often. That makes it somewhat easier, Williams says, but that's not the key to making it work.
Cadillac Williams is averaging 4.8 yards per carry in 2004.
"I think it's not being selfish," says Williams. "Being a ball carrier, you want to be that man that carries the ball all the time. You got to understand that you got another good back on your team. It's not that easy. One thing that helps is the relationship that me and Ronnie have. We're the best of friends off the field. We can talk to each other about anything. Me and Ronnie both feel that if we're out there busting our tails, it ain't going to do nothing but make both of us better."
Their friendship began three years ago when Brown, who's a redshirt, helped Williams learn the offense.
"I came in with a lot of hype," Williams says. "I felt like guys were going to be mean to me. After practice, if I had questions, Ronnie was the first guy I went to. I was getting down. I wasn't playing much. I wasn't grasping the offense. Ronnie was always there, telling me to be patient. That shows you what kind of person he is."
"We're looking for the best interests of the team," says Brown, a fifth-year player. "It works a lot better, the way we communicate about what's going on on the field. I might see something he doesn't see. Is the defensive end staying in tight or is he playing his reads?"
"When he was over there blocking for me against Mississippi State," Williams says of Brown, "he told me the linebacker is not running. He sprang me for a long run."
Ronnie Brown's presence causes problems for opponents.
Both backs broke the 100-yard mark in Auburn's win over Mississippi State. Through four games, Williams has rushed 82 times for 395 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Brown has 269 yards and one touchdown on 31 carries in three games. Brown sat out last week's win over The Citadel.
Coaches love to talk about the need to get the best 11 players on the field. Unlike Minnesota, Auburn takes pains to get its best backs on the field at the same time. Brown is more likely to line up at fullback in front of Williams, although at times Williams will line up split wide with Brown in the backfield in a one-back set.
"More times than not, I'm going to be the fullback," Brown says. "If I make a good block, it's pretty exciting to celebrate. When you're blocking, not just for your teammate, but for your best friend, it adds a little more want-to. When it's your brother, you're going to do whatever you can."
Maroney said that when he gets on PlayStation and uses Minnesota, he alternates himself and Barber at tailback, depending on the formation. When Brown and Williams use Auburn, their unselfishness stops at the console.
"Sometimes I put him at fullback and I put myself at tailback," Brown says. "He puts himself at tailback."
"You can put both of us in, but it doesn't really work as well," Williams says." One of us just gets the ball all the time."
That's not real life. But Williams and Brown's unselfishness doesn't seem like real life, either. It is real football, though. Auburn wouldn't be 4-0 without their ability to share.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel E-mails.