So I just got home after an evening at a friend's house, it's just before 1 a.m., and I decide to double-check on how practice went just before I go to bed ...
and, you know, holy crap, man. Ho. Ly. Crap. Chris Todd. With Burns at receiver. And Caudle at ... well, Caudle at nothing.
One more time: this is why they pay me the nonexistent bucks. More first thing tomorrow, after I say my good-night prayers for Chris Todd's shoulder.
I woke up, and it was all still very, very real, so forward we go. Full reports available by Bitter, Brietzke, Goldberg, Tate, and Woodbery. Thoughts:
--I've said many times that whatever quarterbacking decision this coaching staff made, I'd have faith it was the best one to make, and that's still the case this morning. Kodi Burns and Neil Caudle didn't just "have their shot"--they had all spring, all summer, and nine more practices to make the case they were better than Chris Todd. They didn't make it. Todd didn't throw a single pass in the spring, and they still didn't make it.
Which means that's the end of that little discussion, right? Unlike last season, when by week 3 or 4 we had enough evidence to convict Todd '08 of not being physically up to the task, right now any Auburn fan who would claim to know better than Gus Malzahn who should be the quarterback is not living in the land of the rational.
--Remember also: it's not unprecedented for Malzahn to take a senior quarterback who's never amounted to anything and turn him into a stud overnight. That's precisely what he did last season with Tulsa's David Johnson, who went from having attempted 22 passes the previous two seasons combined to one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the country. Certainly, Johnson had a couple of advantages on Todd in having had a year in the system and a little more mobility (he averaged between 6 and 7 carries a game, probably about 3 or 4 more than we'll want Todd to have), but Todd also has more total game experience than Johnson and was a more highly-touted recruit. So, you know, if he's healthy, no reason he can't succeed and succeed in grand fashion.
--If he's healthy. If he's healthy. If he's healthy. This is your new No. 1 story for fall camp: How's the shoulder? How's the shoulder? How's the shoulder?
--Seriously, how much better a plan is this one than last year's? After just this many practices I'm not sure if Chizik and Co. were really absolutely certain Todd was going to be the best choice, but they could do one of two things:
1. Pick whoever they had the best feeling about and let him get both the lion's share of reps and the support of the team in the effort to have at least one quarterback who'll be able to do the job.
2. Waffle for wait one guy to step up and claim the job, continue to split the reps evenly, and let the team stay in their various camps about who ought to be the starter ... in which case, as we learned last season, you end up with zero quarterbacks who are able to do the job.
It's no wonder that Burns sounds happier as a receiver under this staff than he did as a co-starter at QB under the previous regime.
--We'll get back to Burns in a moment, but there's plenty of Burns talk out there despite the fact that this decision is a substantially more crushing blow for Neil Caudle. Remember, Caudle arrived at Auburn with oodles of recruiting hype and the expectation of being the next Good Brandon. Then for three years it was nothing but injuries and third-string duty until this season, his big chance to impress a brand new staff with a brand new slate and finally, finally earn his way onto the field.
Now? With all the talk about reps, it sure sounds like Chizik wants to have Rollison groomed for the back-up role and good-to-go as soon as possible. Which would make Caudle third string. Again. And unlike Burns, there's no other position for him to play, no other way for him to get onto the field, no other way to stay involved. Unless Todd suffers an injury setback between now and, say, Week 3, Caudle's chances of ever starting a game at Auburn are effectively finished.
So, yeah, no wonder he didn't speak to the press. We wouldn't have if we were in his shoes. If you don't feel for him, your robot heart is due for a transplant.
--As for Burns, I'll be honest with you: I'd have expected him to transfer. He's always played the Good Soldier, but you could also tell he's a proud kid with big dreams. Entering this fall he seemed to have two ways to reach those dreams: 1. win the Auburn job 2. transfer and hope to make a big impression wherever he landed.
I've always had a ton of respect for the way Burns has handled his coaches' juggling act, but to swallow that pride and accept the loss of those dreams and ask to go in front of the team and all-but-order them to throw their support behind Todd ... what can you say? That's not just handling things with grace, that's not just being the Good Soldier, that's seizing things by the throat and being a Good General. I hate hate hate the cult of "leadership" in college football, something that usually amounts to "I yell at my teammates on the field, or I'm a quarterback," but this, this is genuine capital-L Leadership.
And some of you wondered why I was rooting for Kodi to get the job.
--Obviously those are some big words to eat if Burns transfers the next couple of weeks, which I'm not sure we can rule out if the receiving/Wildcat experiment doesn't work out as he's hoping, but there doesn't seem to be much wiggle room in "I'm not going to transfer."
--Besides, I don't think we've heard the last of Burns as an on-field playmaker. The Wildcat seems tailor-made for him--the combination of his elusiveness and an arm the secondary has to respect could produce some serious dividends. And while I doubt Burns has too much of a future at wideout (so much to learn, so little time) it's not that tough to envision him as one of those slithery slot guys who takes a screen and finds a way to make five yards out of it.
--With that said, this also has to be said: as quarterbacks, barring some miraculous comeback, both Caudle and Burns have finally, officially, landed in the "bust" file. It's not fun to call them that, but that's what they are. Both of them started fall practice with what must have been a huge head start on Todd, and they both lost that head start in just nine practices. To Chris Todd. Who, with all due respect, has the mobility of the rusted-out car on blocks in your Uncle Bobby's front yard and was last seen throwing the kinds of passes the Wounded Ducks Association of America publicly asked to be disassociated from, lest their reputations be harmed. Which tells me: Neil Caudle and Kodi Burns really just weren't/aren't particularly good quarterbacks.
Making QB yet another position where Tubby handed his successor a big fat cupboard full of nothing (what happens if Franklin doesn't bring Todd aboard?), and showing yet again that for all of Tubby's rampant successes in finding underrated gems in the recruiting process, he could also sign overhyped disappointments-in-waiting with the best of them.
--Responses worth checking out from the blAUgosphere: PPL has an awesome photoshop, Auburntron goes enjoyably all-caps on us, and while I can't quite get behind JRS's outrage at Lifetime of Defeats--that's, you know, kind of his bag rather than mine--I'll admit that this made me LOL:
It's the reference to "nerds" that makes it.
--Auburn has a starting quarterback. No more trying to glean from 10 minutes of open practice who had the better day, no more parsing Chizik's expert doublespeak to see if anyone has an edge, no more breathless press updates reporting that nothing has changed. The team is moving forward, we're moving forward. That alone is reason enough to be happy, isn't it?