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Friday, August 28, 2009

Caudle named Auburn's No. 2 quarterback; Rollison's redshirt still undecided

AUBURN, Ala. — It wasn’t the quarterback news he had hoped to hear two weeks ago, but Neil Caudle will take it.

Auburn head coach Gene Chizik announced after Friday’s practice that Caudle will be the Tigers’ No. 2 quarterback, beating out true freshman Tyrik Rollison for the backup role to starter Chris Todd.

“He’s worked really, really hard for this,” Chizik said, eight days before Auburn’s season opener against Louisiana Tech. “I’m really proud for him. If he has a chance to go in the football game, we feel like he gives us the best chance to win.”

A 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior from Spain Park High in Hoover, Ala., Caudle has only played in mop-up duty during his three-plus years at Auburn. He has thrown eight career passes, completing four of them for 32 yards.

He and
Kodi Burns dueled to a virtual tie for the top quarterback spot at the end of the spring, but Todd, who missed spring drills while rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, re-claimed the starting job Aug. 13. Burns moved to wide receiver while Caudle and Rollison battled it out for the No. 2 job.

“I wanted the No. 1 job. I couldn’t have that,” Caudle said. “To see improvement is definitely a good thing. I’ve been throwing the ball well. I’ve been more comfortable out there. The game has been slowing down for me.”

“If you just look at him right now, he feels like he has just a better comfort level now than maybe he did two weeks ago,” Chizik said. “We figured that would happen over time. We figured someone would separate (himself) and Neil’s done that.”

If you followed the blog on Twitter, you would have found out about this seconds after Chizik said it. Seriously. So I encourage you to follow along.

Here's some more news and notes from Friday ...
  • The quarterback news was nice for Caudle, whose career has been dotted by a number of false starts. He separated his shoulder in a preseason scrimmage in 2007 and never factored into last year’s quarterback competition between Burns and Todd when Tony Franklin was offensive coordinator. “Neil to me is the ultimate tough guy,” Chizik said. “He has been through a lot of adversity. He just keeps coming back. ... I’m proud for him. I’m proud of him. It couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
  • Chizik said Friday’s decision does not necessarily mean a redshirt year for Rollison, the 6-foot, 194-pound dual-threat jewel of Auburn’s 2009 recruiting class. The coaches gave the freshman the majority of reps with the second team after naming Todd the starter, just to see what he was capable of. “We don’t have any intention in that direction yet,” Chizik said of redshirting Rollison. “We’re going to keep working with Tyrik and we’re going to keep, slowly but surely, feeding him pieces of the offense. Right now, there’s some things he does really well and we feel like there’s some things we can really build on. (We’re) just kind of increasing his library of what he can and can’t do within the offense.”
  • Chizik said Rollison took the news well. “He just wants to win and he wants to be a great teammate,” Chizik said. “He knows he’s very talented, which he is, and he knows he’s got work to do. With a really, really good heart, he’s accepted it and will continue to work every day like he’s done.”
  • Those looking for this as a sign that Caudle has a leg up on the competition for the 2010 quarterback job are getting ahead of themselves. Todd is a senior, meaning the quarterback race next season will likely come down to Caudle, Rollison, Barrett Trotter, who is out this year after tearing an ACL, and freshman Clint Moseley, a likely redshirt candidate. “Every year is a new year,” Chizik said. “It’s really hard to say. I don’t know that that would be a fair assessment at this point because every year is new and we’ll start it all over again.”
  • Chizik said the depth chart isn't complete, but it's getting closer. I have to imagine backup quarterback was a big one to cross off the list.
  • Auburn probably will play anywhere from 10 to 15 true freshman this season by most estimations. That's pretty daunting for most first-year players. "It's tough," Chizik said. "You can do all you want on the practice field, and then all of a sudden you put 90,000 out there and it changes. Conventional wisdom would say it shouldn't, but it does. And so they've got to get used to the speed of the game. I mean, think about all these guys who came out of high school right now. They've gotten used to practice speed against their own guys, but game speed is different. And there's a lot of challenges that come with that and I've experienced it first hand. So we've just got to again work through the growing pains that come with it because we'd rather not be in this situation, but it is what it is. And we're here. So they'll grow, they'll make their share of mistakes, we know that. We're trying to put them in positions where they don't make mistakes, but we know that's what comes with the territory, but it's tough. It is."
  • Running backs coach Curtis Luper doesn't have a No. 2 back picked out quite yet. "I’ll kind of determine that starting next Saturday," he said. "Generally – hopefully – someone will emerge as the guy after the first couple of weeks." Mario Fannin, Onterio McCalebb and Dontae Aycock are all options for carries behind starter Ben Tate.
  • Luper would like to have a change-of-pace back to Tate. Eric Smith, who has not practiced with the team since his arrest for third-degree assault, figured to be the power back. Now, the Tigers are still searching. It might be Aycock, who at 225 pounds is a little bigger than Tate and McCalebb. "It puts a lot of pressure on the defense because they can get accustomed to one style of guy and then here comes a guy that’s totally different," Luper said. "A lot of times you hear of guys like thunder and lightning. You’ve heard that comparison – an analogy used to describe two different kinds of backs. It keeps the defense off balance and it presents certain issues for them."
  • Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes had questions about his backup group. How did he feel about them Friday, eight days before the season opener? "Still questions," he said with a smile. "Not ready to say anything about any one guy that guy that's going to be a backup at this spot at that spot. Certainly you want to have those decisions made as soon as you can. But sometimes it's not a bad thing for guys to know they're competing all the way up to the end. You get the best preparation out of all the guys you can if they're still competing. I know a little bit more than I did a week or two ago, but not where I ready to name anybody as backup at any spot yet."
  • Grimes said in the past he's had a sixth lineman who is close to the starting five in ability. "If that's the case, I'll rotate a guy in there," he said. "Certainly you like to do that because it develops a little more depth and you have guys with game experience. But if you're in the position where you don't have a guy that's anywhere close to the starters, you're not going to throw somebody out there just to do it." Asked if that's the case this year, Grimes smiled again and said, "We'll see."
  • Grimes confirmed that the starting five everybody expected up front will be that way. Just for reference, this is the starting lineup: LT Lee Ziemba, LG Mike Berry, C Ryan Pugh, RG Byron "Lee" Isom, RT Andrew McCain.
  • Grimes' hope for Game 1: "My hope is that we step out there and we make a statement with how we play the game, in terms of our style of play more than anything else. Certainly we want to be technically proficient, we don't have to have penalties, we don't want to give up sacks or anything. The main thing is I'm looking for five guys that will just dominate the game up front and play it the way I think it ought to be played. And if that happens, it'll show up. If we play hard, play physical, and do what we need do, that gives us a chance to do what we need to do on offense. Nothing can happen if we don't do that."

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