Friday, August 14, 2009

Last night's QB story

Chris Todd knew, after missing the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, that he needed to move quickly to contend for the starting quarterback spot.

Thursday, Auburn's ninth day of practice, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn named Todd the starter.

In a pre-practice team meeting, Auburn coach Gene Chizik informed the team that Todd had earned the job.

"I really didn't know what to expect," Todd said. "I know what coach Malzahn's expectations were and I know what he wanted to do, but I knew it'd be hard. I knew it would be a really short window of opportunity to win the job. So I knew I'd have to come out and compete hard early."

Todd, who began his career at Texas Tech, started five games for Auburn last year after transferring from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. The coaching staff shut down his season after his shoulder continued to grow weaker by the seventh game.

After the rough junior season, off-season shoulder surgery and missing camp, Todd said he knew he faced long odds.

"There were a lot of unknowns out there," Todd said. "I'm really happy with the way it's turned out, but I can't say that I knew what to expect."

Thursday, Todd walked into the complex ignorant of the fact he would be named the starter. During a meeting with Chizik and Malzahn, he received the good news.

Still, Chizik said it wasn't as easy for the rest of the program.

"This is a really tough day for everybody," Chizik said. "This is the day coaches don't like — making these decisions because they're tough ones when you've got great kids that do everything you ask them to do and they're all fighting their rear end for a job."

The news was especially difficult for Kodi Burns, who started seven games last season.

Burns admitted he was initially disappointed "a lot" by the news, but seemingly regrouped quickly.

After the team meeting, Burns addressed the team. He hopes his message will keep the team from splitting, as he thinks it did last year.

"I felt as if it was that way. It was a bunch of nonsense," Burns said. "Things weren't handled the right way.

"This year, the coaching staff came in and everything was fair. Everything was a great chance. I'm just thankful that I had a chance."

Burns also said to reporters that he's "100 percent behind" Todd and that "Auburn Nation needs to get behind Chris as well."

Chizik came away thoroughly impressed with the way Burns handled the situation.

"He wanted to say some words to our team — truly, truly inspirational, very heartfelt," Chizik said. "He showed truly who he is today — just a guy with a lot of character and what a great competitor.

"I couldn't be more proud of a player today, accepting the decision the way he did."

Though Burns is out of the starting quarterback race, he thinks he can help the offense — particularly from the Wildcat formation.

Wednesday, one day after Auburn's first scrimmage, Burns took most of the snaps during Wildcat drills.

Burns, a junior, said he never considered transferring after learning of the decision.

The first sign of an eminent announcement came during the open portion of practice when Burns worked with the receivers instead of the quarterbacks.

Burns, still in an orange non-contact jersey, had receivers' gloves and worked exclusively with the wideouts during the session open to the media. The junior started by catching passes from the JUGS machine. Minutes later, Trooper Taylor spent the beginning of a session showing Burns the stance receivers take before a play starts.

Meanwhile, Todd, Neil Caudle, Tyrik Rollison and Clint Moseley spent the first periods doing quarterback drills with Malzahn.

Chizik said although Todd has been named the starter, the backup job remains undecided. He also said Rollison is getting ample opportunity in practice.

"We're really repping Tyrik right now to see how fast he can come along," Chizik said. "Obviously he wasn't here in spring practice. He's shown some flashes of being a very good quarterback just like he was in high school, but we need to know more."

Burns, 3-5 as a starting quarterback, spent the entire spring battling with Caudle and Barrett Trotter for the starting spot. By the end of the spring, Burns and Caudle had surpassed Trotter, even before the redshirt freshman injured his knee.

Malzahn said Burns and Caudle would enter camp as the two frontrunners, but Todd immediately entered into the mix once practices began.

This isn't the first time Burns came out on the wrong side of an Auburn quarterback competition. He, Todd and Caudle worked through the spring in 2008, until former coordinator Tony Franklin narrowed the field to Todd and Burns.

Franklin left Todd in the race despite the quarterback missing several practices with a shoulder injury. Ultimately, Franklin chose Todd two games into last season. Once Tommy Tuberville fired Franklin midway through the season, Burns assumed the starting job.

As a true freshman, Burns briefly made a run at Brandon Cox' starting job. He played the majority of the game against Mississippi State and then started a win against New Mexico State the following week.

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