Tuesday, April 14, 2009

News and notes from Tuesday's practice

Neither Neil Caudle nor Kodi Burns knew what, if any, decision offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn had made on quarterbacks before Tuesday’s practice.
As it turned out, Caudle and Burns appear to be the two survivors of the quarterback competition.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik, in uncharacteristic fashion, said following the Tigers’ 12th practice that Caudle and Burns split most of the reps with the first-team offense. Chizik did caution that redshirt freshman Barrett Trotter is not out of the race, but it appears he’s running third in a three-quarterback race.
“What we decided, we’re getting to the point now where we’re coming down to the end of spring practice and you’ve got to try to decide where you’re going to put your reps,” Chizik said. “Neil and Kodi took a lot of the reps tonight, not that Barrett didn’t.
“It’s not over at all. Again, as you come down this path at the end you’ve just got to decide – it’s hard to evenly divide up reps between three people. That being said, we just decided to give a few more reps to Neil and Kodi. Really, that’s the extent of it.”
After three weeks of a total standstill in the race, that seemingly minor detail carried significant weight.
The team took both Sunday and Monday off following Saturday’s scrimmage game. Burns said he used the opportunity to escape from what has been a competitive month of practice.
At this time last year, Burns and Chris Todd were neck-and-neck in the quarterback race. Burns finished the spring in strong fashion, winning the A-Day offensive MVP award.
He’s looking for a similar result this year.
“I kind of feel like that,” Burns said. “I feel like I’m getting better each practice. I feel like the things he’s asking of me, I’m going to be able to do a little bit better each day. We have four or five more practice left and I hope to keep getting better.”
Caudle was a non-factor in the race by this time in 2008.
Now he’s one of two quarterbacks still vying for the starting position.
“Each practice is real important for everybody,” Caudle said. “It’s definitely important, especially coming down to the wire to show what we can do.”
Per Chizik’s policies, Malzahn was not available for comment before or after Tuesday’s practice.
Chizik said that while Burns and Caudle are getting most of the first-team reps, he does not consider them to be atop the quarterback depth chart.
“I wouldn’t say that at all,” Chizik said. “I would say that the only decision we’ve made is reps at this point. In the name of trying to – as we come down the path here, and we’re coming down the home stretch – decide rep-wise how to not distribute it three ways, that’s what we did.
“We certainly haven’t named a starter or a co-starter. Those two certainly haven’t won a position and Barrett Trotter’s not out of a position. We’re trying to focus on where we need to put our reps right now.”
Still, Burns is holding out hope that there can be some resolution by the end of spring practice.
“As a quarterback you definitely want to know,” he said. “As a guy that started a lot last year, you definitely want to know and you’re concerned. But I’ve just got to go out there and know that I gave it my best and any decision that they make is on them. You can’t worry about that.”

NOTES: Chizik announced Tuesday that A-Day would use an offense vs. defense format. He also said an explanatory key to the scoring system would be distributed so fans could follow along.
Special teams will be a part of the final scrimmage, possibly including some kickoff returns. If there are kickoff returns, they will be “thud,” meaning no tackling to the ground.
Quarterbacks will not be live on Saturday, as they have been for much of spring.

BILLINGS OUT: Montez Billings has missed spring practice with what has previously been described as an injury.
Chizik said Tuesday that Billings’ situation has nothing to do with the receiver’s health.
“Montez right now, we’re trying to clear up an academic situation,” Chizik said. “We’re still working on that as we go.”

KICKING INTO GEAR: Over the past week, kicker Wes Byrum has shown special teams coordinator Jay Boulware a level of consistency missing in 2008.
Boulware said Byrum has reclaimed the starting kicker spot – partly because he’s returning to old form and partly because Chandler Brooks is injured. Boulware didn’t specify Brooks’ injury.
In fact, Boulware wasn’t even sure of Brooks’ first name.
“Is that his first name? Golly,” Boulware said. “Yellow shoes. That’s what I call him.”
Byrum retook control of the starting job by making 7-of-8 pre-practice kicks on Tuesday.
“I’ve been really pleased with the last couple of practices with Wes. He’s gotten better with pre-practice kicks each day.
“We’re shooting for him to be 100 percent during that little, brief period we have at the beginning of practice. If he can get to that point and start striving for the next thing – to do that a couple of days in a row – we’ll be on track for getting the consistency that we want. We haven’t arrived by any means. It is getting better.”
While the field goal kicking has improved, Boulware said he has major concerns about kickoffs.
He said Morgan Hull is the only kicker with a strong enough leg for the job, but Hull lacks consistency.
“We’re really hurting in that department right now,” Boulware said.

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