Auburn, Ala.--Without any of the scholarship running backs at his disposal for Thursday morning's scrimmage, offensive coordinator Tony Franklin put the ball in the air more often than not and the results were to be as expected as the offense made some plays, but also struggled at times to move the ball.
"I hated to come out and run knowing that every time we ran it we would be second and nine," Franklin said. "Even though I wanted the o-line to get some of the blocking stuff the hard part is they block everybody and you get two yards. As the scrimmage went on the young guys did better. They try really hard and do the best they can, but you've got four dynamic guys not out here. Really it's not good for the defense either because they don't have dynamic guys to tackle. It makes them get a little false sense of security too."
Playing without Brad Lester, who was just held out of the scrimmage, Tristan Davis (foot), Benjamin Tate (hamstring) and Mario Fannin (shoulder), the offense was forced to go with strictly walk-ons at the running back position. That allowed the defense to pin its ears back time after time, making it tough for the offense to get very much going. Franklin said it was a day where he felt like he could learn a lot about his quarterbacks.
"It's good," Franklin said. "They need to get frustrated. They need to have it where nothing is working. They need to get pressure. They need all that stuff to happen. The best thing about the entire day was not throwing balls to the other team. That's the best they've done by far as a group and Neil (Neil Caudle) especially. He had a great scrimmage by not throwing the ball to the other team."
After struggling in the first scrimmage with several turnovers, Caudle came back strong with two touchdowns through the air and no turnovers. In his first scrimmage action of the spring, junior college transfer Chris Todd did a good job of running the offense. Franklin said it's evident Todd feels comfortable in this offense and it showed on Thursday.
"I think you saw that he's played before in this environment," Franklin said. "He's got great leadership qualities and a good feel in the pocket. His arm is still not there yet, but it's getting better. He had a little more zip on the ball today. The feel that he's got is the feel of a guy that understands what this is about. It was good to see him get in there and get some reps."
The clear leader through much of spring practice, sophomore Kodi Burns didn't have his best day, but still did a solid job of running the team. He threw the only interception of the day on a great play by Jerraud Powers, but other than that played mistake free football. Franklin said it's a little different judging Burns on a day like Thursday because his running ability can't be put on display.
"I thought he did a good job," Franklin said. "He didn't have as good of a day as the other guys did and I think a lot of that was just the luck of the draw. His leadership was good and his presence was good. When you're playing touch Kodi's not as good. You touch him and he's done, but there's a lot of yardage still there."
Early on the offense came out firing as the first unit marched down the field and scored on its first possession of the day. After that though the defense tightened up and held strong for the middle portion of the scrimmage. Franklin said the offense responded towards the end of the day, but it still wasn't as consistent as he's hoping to see up and down the roster.
"I think we were getting our butt whipped," Franklin said about the middle of the scrimmage. "That was the main thing. We dropped several balls too where we had guys wide open. We're rotating guys that probably won't be playing on Saturday. There are guys that haven't made a play yet out here and if they don't start making plays they'll be over on the sidelines or up in the stands on Saturdays. We're giving them chances now to make plays and if they don't make plays they'll be over there with me."
Now 10 practices in with just five remaining, including the A-Day Game on March 29, the Tigers have put much of the offense in and are now working on fine tuning things heading into the summer. Franklin said while there is still plenty of work to do, he likes where his unit is at the moment.
"I think we're on schedule," Franklin said. "I think we're headed in the right direction. We're getting better. The details are getting a lot better. The assistant coaches are doing a great job on the details and making these guys better. We're on schedule."