Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Rollison and the redshirt
Judging by the majority of the comments left on this blog and other Auburn-centric gathering places around the Internet, the majority--though not quite “consensus”--opinion on Tyrik Rollison is as follows:
We think he’ll be great. But he ought to redshirt this year.
It’s a perfectly understandable, legitimate position to take. Rollison is a talented, athletic freshman quarterback. In the overwhelming majority of cases, talented, athletic freshman quarterbacks (actually, “freshman quarterbacks,” period) benefit substantially more from a redshirt year learning the proverbial ropes than they do getting tossed headfirst through those ropes into the no-hold-barred cage match that is SEC football. And Auburn fans, of course, were reminded of this lesson in all-too-vivid fashion just two years ago when athletic, talented freshman quarterback Kodi Burns burned through both a year of his eligibility and a good chunk of his confidence reserves spelling Brandon Cox during his most Evil period of all. There is a consensus that playing Burns as a freshman did nothing for his long-term prospects at Auburn, and that’s a consensus I wholeheartedly agree with.
So I don’t blame anyone who’s not interested yet in changing their default setting for freshman QBs from “redshirt” to something else, even when the QB in question is as studly as Rollison. And in a perfect or even better-than-average world, yes, Rollison will redshirt this season.
It has to be said, however: Rollison is not Burns and 2009 is not 2007. And the JCCW will not utter a word of complaint (well, it’s not an airtight guarantee) if Gus Malzahn and the Auburn staff burn Rollison’s redshirt this season.
Why? Because of the differences between Rollison’s situation and Burns’s situation, which are:
1. Rollison doesn’t require the extra year to work on his accuracy. His mechanics, possibly, his decision-making, very probably, his familiarity with the offense, certainly. But when Burns arrived he was in many ways the prototypical raw athletic QB: dynamic with the ball in his hands and on the rollout where he could put his tremendous quickness, escapability, and cannon arm to its best effect. But of course--I’m not telling you anything you don’t know--Burns was still far too scattershot on the routine drop back throws to be a full-time quarterback. (We’ll find out this fall is he still is.)
Rollison, however--in case you missed it the first time--hit better than 73 percent of 428 throws his senior year of high school. Rivals called him the most accurate high school quarterback in the nation last year. Rollison is athletic, yes, but when you complete as many passes as he did it’s a more-than-safe assumption that he’s just not the loose cannon Burns was.
2. There’s no Brandon Cox. As long as Cox’s brain didn’t unscrew the top of his head and leap out of his skull--which, of course, it did at the end of that South Florida game, without returning until the second half against New Mexico St.--Burns was never going to be more than a change-of-pace, a cheap gimmick. Cox was a senior, with an impeccable record, the unflinching respect of his team, and the hypothetical (very hypothetical, but still) potential to regain his glory form of 2005. He was the starter, no ifs, ands, buts, or any other conjunctions you’d care to name.
No one currently in the running to be Auburn's quarterback in 2009 comes anything close to boasting that kind of status. Even if Burns had some value coming off the bench in '07, Auburn never needed him. It remains an unlikely possibility that in 2009, none of Burns or Caudle or Todd will be able to hack it and that Auburn will, in fact, need Rollison.
3. Gene Chizik is not in a position to waste any time. Coming off of what many observers considered his best coaching job in 2006, Tommy Tuberville appeared to be well entrenched and could have afforded to have waited and build for the future (at least, up until the point Cox and Caudle's injury in fall camp forced his hand).
Chizik? Not so much. That 5-19 albatross around his neck is going to be an anchor on the program every minute until he gets rid of it with--please oh please--a successful debut campaign. He can't wait; Auburn can't wait. The Tigers have to win now or risk cementing themselves as an SEC afterthought. If Rollison gives Auburn the best chance to win, even if that chance is better by only the tiniest of margins, he ought to be on the field.
Let me emphasize this again: this is not a prediction that Rollison will win the starting job, avoid a redshirt, lead Auburn to a 10-win season, slay the dragon, marry the princess, etc. I've said for months now that Burns deserves to be viewed as the favorite until Malzahn chooses someone else, and I'm still saying that today.
However: if Malzahn does choose someone else, and that someone happens to be Rollison, it won't be an occasion for gripe or complaint about Auburn not learning the lessons of 2007. It will just be an occasion to note that our coaching staff will have decided that a freshman quarterback happens to be the right guy to be under center. And if we can (and should) all wish that didn't have to be the case, we can all also realize that history doesn't have to repeat itself.