Neil Caudle, a redshirt junior who went into preseason drills with high hopes of being the starter, lost that competition to senior Todd. However, he won the consolation prize on Friday as the number two quarterback, holding off a major challenge from true freshman Tyrik Rollison.
Head coach Gene Chizik said that Caudle played well in the spring and continued to improve in the August drills and that is why he won the important assignment of backup behind a player who is coming off of shoulder surgery who had to be shut down due to an injury in 2008.
"Neil has really, really come on," Chizik said. "He has worked really, really hard for this. I am really proud of him.
"I think the last three or four days he has taken a lot of reps," the coach noted. "I really feel good about where he is as the backup right now. If he has a chance to go into a game, we feel like he gives us the best chance to win."
Caudle, who is 6-3, 202 pounds, has overcome surgeries to both knees and a major wrist injury that have limited his playing time going back to his senior year at Spain Park High School where he was a heavily recruited prospect.
"I am proud for Neil," Chizik said. "He has worked really hard. He deserves it."
Caudle saw limited duty in two games last year. He completed 4-5 passes for 32 yards vs. UT-Martin and played briefly vs. Louisiana-Monroe.
"I am excited about it," Caudle said after being named the No. 2 quarterback. "I am ready to go in there and compete. I talked to Coach Chizik today and he told me about it"
Chizik said the the Friday evening practice was productive as the Tigers went over situations in a scrimmage style setting without full contact. The team practiced in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts with emphasis on sideline organization, communication between the coaching staff and communication between the players and coaches.
Chizik said the session was needed and showed the staff the coaching staff areas that need improvement before opening the season on Saturday, Sept. 5th against Louisiana Tech.
" "We went through a lot of situations out on the field that we know we're going to face, both offensively and defensively," the head coach stated."It was kind of a fast-moving day that really just covered situations. We needed it. It was very glaring what we needed to get accomplished. We think we got a lot out of it today."
Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said Friday night that he has his starting lineup set with Ryan Pugh at center, Byron Isom and Mike Berry at guard and Lee Ziemba at tackle along with Andrew McCain. He also said nothing is set as far as the backups are concerned.
"I am not ready to say anything in terms of any one guy who is going to be the backup at this spot or that spot," he noted. "Certainly, you want to have those decisions made as soon as you can, but sometimes it is not a bad thing for guys to know that they are competing all of the way up to game time, either. You get the best preparation you can out of all of those guys, I think, if they know they are still competing.
"I would say I know a little bit more than I did a week or two ago, but am not at the point where I am ready to name anybody as a backup," he added.
The Tigers will take the day off on Saturday and return to the practice field on Sunday evening.