The Starter: Chris Todd (6-4, 210, Sr.)
The Backup: Neil Caudle (6-3, 200, Jr.)
The Wildcard: Tyrik Rollison (6-0, 194, Fr.)
The Outside Possibility: Kodi Burns (6-2, 208, Jr.)
It’s amazing just how much a little coaching decisiveness can accomplish. Many (I would even say the majority) of Auburn fans before the decision to anoint Todd as Auburn’s 2009 quarterback starter …
“Well, I’m thinking it’s going to be Caudle/Burns (delete as applicable) rather than Burns/Caudle, but either way there’s not much to get excited about. Maybe Rollison will do something? Todd … dude, don’t make me laugh.”
… during …
“TODD?!? Are you serious?!?”
“Hey, yeah, Todd! He’s healthy now, so he’s got the best arm, he threw for a million-point-five yards in high school in Kentucky, he’s the most accurate, and Mike Leach himself wanted him to be the starter at Texas Tech before he got hurt! Yeah! Chris Todd!”
Now, I’m not going to tell anyone not to be optimistic about Auburn’s quarterbacking situation … but still, it’s startling to realize that the season is being approached with anything other than dread when our starting quarterback finished last year with a 55 percent completion rate, a 6-to-7 TD-to-INT ratio, a net negative rushing total, and a yards-per-attempt number (5.78) worse than any starter in the SEC other than Mike Hartline. And anecdotally, Todd hadn’t just lost a bit off his fastball last year–my opinion after seeing him in person was that he was toting the weakest arm of any starting SEC QB I could remember seeing.
In the rush to embrace Todd as a viable option I’ve heard his “decision-making” praised more than once, but, uh, did you see the decision-making on display at the 6:22 mark of this clip? (Do not watch any other part of this video if you’re an Auburn fan, by the by.)
2008 saw Auburn quarterbacks make a whole host of soul-crushingly awful plays, but that one was the most soul-crushingly awful of them all. So forgive me if I wait and see what Todd has to offer in 2009 before pronouncing him Steady Eddie in the pocket.
But if I think Todd has to prove he’s put last year behind him before we can expect a great year in front of him, that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons to think he’ll give us that proof. For starters, while Malzahn’s offense would benefit from a running threat, his success at Tulsa was powered by traditional pocket-bound QBs like Todd: in 2008 David Johnson ran for just 2 yards a carry (while throwing for 46 touchdowns) and in ’07 Paul Smith barely broke a yard-per-rushing attempt (while throwing for 47 TDs). Surely a one-time stud recruit like Todd could be as good as a Paul Smith or a David Johnson, right?
If Malzahn’s track record is the biggest reason to think Todd might make a quantum leap, there’s others, too: 1. a running game with a pulse to take the pressure off 2. an offensive line (if healthy) that should have its collective act together 3. perhaps most importantly for a position as mental as QB, a renewed confidence coming from both Todd’s health and his status as the unquestioned starter 4. oh, right, did I mention he’s healthy?
Or at least, he’s supposed to be. That’s the thing: all the positive chatter regarding Todd’s Dr. James Andrews-repaired arm won’t mean much if it’s Week 6 at Arkansas and the pivotal fourth-quarter pass still falls just a bit short because Todd’s shoulder can’t get it there. Until Todd shows us this Saturday that the strength is back and that he can avoid the killer mistake he strayed into at times last year, we have to assume the Auburn quarterbacking glass is half-empty (Todd won the job because Caudle and Burns aren’t any good) rather than half-full (Todd won the job because he’s awesome).
That goes double when you consider that there’s not much behind Todd if he does encounter any arm trouble. After three years of never rising higher than third-string, Caudle had all spring to build himself a lead over Todd … and lost it in just nine practices. Burns had even worse passing numbers than Todd did last year (though I’d argue his rushing yardage counterbalances that) and that was practicing full-time at quarterback; now that he’s Mr. Wildcat and a second-string receiver, he can’t be more than an emergency option.
That leaves Rollison. While there’s not much doubt in my mind that he’s the quarterback of Auburn’s future, that Malzahn has been handing Rollison most of Caudle’s reps for the last few weeks and still went with Caudle on the second team tells me the freshman’s not ready to be the QB of the present just yet. That doesn’t mean he might not be capable of backup duty by midseason, but if Malzahn’s already going public with plans to redshirt him, it doesn’t seem like Rollison is on pace to be starter material before the year is out. If he’s seeing time, it’s not the best of signs for Auburn.
Todd fulfills the Brandon Cox comparisons that greeted his early-season returns last year by pairing just enough moments of brilliance to maintain a firm grip on the job with just enough moments of failure to short-circuit any talk of his becoming more than “decent.” Still, “decent” is a giant step up from ’08’s “gawd-awful,” and it’ll be enough to keep this offense moving.
Meanwhile, Rollison redshirts, Caudle gets spot duty to save Todd’s (increasingly shaky-looking) arm, and Burns sticks to Wildcat duty.
THE UNIT’S FINAL GRADE ON AN UNNECESSARILY PRECISE FIVE-STAR SCALE