"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.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.
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."
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.