Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Notes on spring

"Hi, I'm Neil Caudle! You may remember me from such previous Auburn football teams as ... uh, I got a couple of snaps in that one I-AA game, remember?"

Briefly recapping some of the developments of spring practice over the last several days ...

Malzahn Caudles something together at quarterback. Not that it's completely unexpected, given that Neil Caudle was the No. 7 QB in his class and has always had a live arm when it wasn't recuperating from some injury or another ... but after an offseason in which the consensus at quarterback was nonetheless "Burns's to lose, unless it's Trotter," it was still something of a jolt when news leaked last week that Caudle and Burns are running neck-and-neck at the top of the quarterback depth chart right now.

Frankly, it's a battle I don't expect to be resolved this spring. The guess here is that the two of them are going to be pushing each other all the way up until the last couple of weeks before the opener ... because if you're Malzahn, what's the point in declaring a winner early, unless you're 100 percent positive one or the other is the guy you want?

But I do think we have to take a moment and contemplate the very serious possibility that Caudle will get the job. On the one hand, how incredible a story would that be for a kid who's had nothing but setback after setback at Auburn and turned his one last chance into a starting gig? At the same time, how devastating would that be for Burns, the guy who's been expected to produce on the field despite going throughfour offensive coordinators in two years and has done everything his various coaches have asked of him ... except for, well, being better. It's the most riveting story on the Auburn team right now, and I don't see that changing any time between now and August.

As for a prediction ... well, not that this is some revelation from on high, but the thought here is that it'll come down to Burns's accuracy. If Burns can get into the same ballpark with Caudle on putting his throws where they need to be, his athleticism should carry the day. But if Malzahn can't trust Burns to complete the six-yard outs or put the bombs where the wideouts can go and get them, it doesn't matter how many plays he'll make with his legs.

Meet the new running back, same as the old running back. With Mario Fannin struggling with an injury and Onterio McCalebb both learning his way around and in apparent need of some additional weight, guess who's the current odds-on favorite to be Auburn's No. 1 RB?
Ben Tate floated through interviews smiling, laughing and excitedly sharing practice anecdotes.

It was a far cry from the often sullen or frustrated countenance he displayed for much of 2008.

Initially skeptical, the senior running back has become sold on coordinator Gus Malzahn's new offense. The affection appears to be mutual. Malzahn and running backs coach Curtis Luper have singled out Tate as a top performer in the first week of practice. ...

There appears to be little dispute among coaches that he will be the primary ball carrier.

"I think he'll rush for 1,000 yards," Luper said. "It's going to happen."
Well, OK then. For an offense that places on emphasis on quick bursts through the hole and shiftiness in space, I'm not sure Tate seems like the best fit. To be fair, when Tate argues that he's got as much straight-line speed as anyone on the team, sure, I'm not going to argue with him there. But there's a reason people don't think of as fast: he has not run like a fast back the past two seasons. Lester and Fannin have both been more aggressive, quicker into the seams, better slashers than Tate has been. That's not just the JCCW's opinion but the consensus across the Auburn fanbase, and I don't think it's a knee-jerk "biggest = slowest" thing, either; we're the same fans who watched Bo Jackson, Stephen Davis, and Ronnie Brown, so we're well aware that running backs can be both big and fast at the same time. To this point, Ben Tate hasn't been both of those things.

However: I'm not going to say he can't be both this year. Tate seemed to run without confidence at times last year, and not without reason when you consider how many of those hopeless zone reads he was asked to carry and how porous the offensive line was at times. Tate's certainly had his moments, so if if he can take a handoff full in the knowledge that his offensive coordinator isn't sending him directly into the teeth of the defense and that there's going to be some kind of a hole in front of him ... well, he does have good straight-line speed. We'll see.

The Toro: still awesome. Freeman's quote from the weekend--you know, the "Tuberville wasn't on my scholarship, Coach Willis wasn't on my scholarship. Auburn University was on my scholarship" one--has made the rounds with a quickness, and not without reason. Everyone who gets a stupid giddy smile on their face knowing we've got three full seasons of The Toro, raise their hands. Let's see, is that everyone ... checking the back ... yep, everyone.

Coachlove? More intriguing to yours truly than Ted Roof's repeated praise for Craig Stevens (he was arguably Auburn's most consistent linebacker last season ... what were you expecting?) is the little snippet that Malzahn was happy with Tim Hawthorne's effort at wideout. The other receiver to get name-dropped the last few days, even if only by Burns? Uh, Darvin Adams. Frenchy got a couple of write-ups last week, but those were mostly "He's still 5-8! And he's coming back from injury!" updates.

So suffice it to say the receivers as a group haven't done much yet--at least as far as we can tell--to quiet the doubts that Deangelo Benton and maybe even Emory Blake are going to be ganking rotation spots from the moment they arrive.


Aubiece said...

Neil Caudle is a bright young man
and if he can overcome his injuries, can be a great AU QB.
I saw him @ Spain Park and he can throw!!

jrsuicide said...

The moment I read Malzahn's earliest quotes about the Auburn qb's my money has been on Caudle winning the job this Spring. If this does happen what do you think are the chances Burns says, "screw it. I'm outta here"?

If Caudle does win the job I'm also willing to bet that (should he qualify) Rollinson may still end up beating him out in the Fall.

Comm'r of Flesh Wounds said...


My guess is that Burns sticks it out at AU even if Caudle is named the likely starter at the end of Spring ball. If that happens, he may certainly want to leave and who could blame him given the revolving door of OCs he's had to deal with. But Burns knows how much can change both in Fall camp and (unfortunately) after the season starts. I agree with Jerry that a Spring decision on the QBs is tentative, at best.

Of all the horrific decisions in recent years, the one that haunts Burns the most (not the team - that would clearly be the TF hiring) is pulling his redshirt in 2007. I suppose we'll never know who was responsible for shameless appeal to the masses but my guess (yet another) is that it was NOT Al Borges.

Burns should be a sophmore and, if so, would have to be more understanding and patient with any decision to give the job to an upperclassmen. Even better would be an experienced sophmore for the starting job with three full years of eligibility left.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Dead on, Commish. What I do worry about is that if fall practice is closing up and Burns is still mired behind Caudle, he decides to bolt and go wherever he's going with two years of eligibility left rather than using another one wasting away on Auburn's bench. Honestly, I wouldn't blame him at that point.

Re: Burns's redshirt, I remember writing during fall practice of 2007 that Caudle's injury might end up being the most important one Auburn suffered that year, because it meant that Burns became the backup. I think that's ended up being pretty much the case.

SEC Homer said...

I am excited about AU and their offense this season, but alas I was also excited last year. Are things this year going to be different? I hope so, but some of the things I have read about Chizik disturb me a little. Mainly that he seems very controlling and he may try to reign in Malzahn, even though he says different. I did not become excited about the Chizik hire until he started naming assistants. I am hoping he lets his talented assistants assist and that he acts as more of a figurehead that gets involed with the defense sometimes. I realize this comment may belong in a different post, but as I was reading Jerry's post, I was just thinking of the confidence and cockiness exuding from the Tony Franklin experiment last spring. I am still taking crap from a couple of my Bama buddies because of that overconfidence. Of course, I just pull up some youtube highlights from the Sugar Bowl and they shut up.

Regarding the actual post, I too think Caudle has the best shot at the job. Burns' accuracy was lacking at times which hurt AU in crucial third and long situations against tough defenses last year. Caudle was a 4 star QB for a reason.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Homer, I'm also very curious to see how well our exceedingly detail-oriented head coach keeps himself out of the giant detail of "offense." I also cringe when I think about how confident I was in Franklin last year, but I still think he could have been successful had the situation been different. I hope like nobody's business we're not saying the same thing about Malzahn a year from now.

jrsuicide said...

If Chizik decides to Tuberville-Up the Spread Eagle 2: Electric Boogaloo then I'm gonna be burning my Auburn gear and turning my attention back to the Braves, Falcons, & Hawks for the next few years.