Auburn 'Burns' playbook

The Auburn Tigers have three quarterbacks competing for the right to operate their new "Spread" offense this fall. One runs like the wind. The other two run like they're running into the wind.

Guess who'll win the job?

You don't have to be exceptionally mobile to direct the Spread but it certainly helps. That's why sophomore Kodi Burns is the odds-on favorite to be behind center when Auburn takes the field Aug. 30 to face Louisiana-Monroe. He's an excellent runner, whereas competitors Chris Todd and Neil Caudle are not.

Burns played in just nine games last fall – most of those as the backup to Brandon Cox – yet he was the Tigers' fourth-leading rusher with 203 yards and three touchdowns on 54 carries. Todd and Caudle probably couldn't gain 203 yards rushing if they were facing cheerleaders each weekend.

Burns' greatest attribute, though, may be that he takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

"One thing I like about Kodi ... he's durable," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville noted during the recent SEC Media Days. "This offense is built for a guy like him. You know, he can probably run the ball 12, 14, 15 times a game, take the beating, get back to the line of scrimmage and be able to handle that."

Whereas Todd (6-4, 219 junior) and Caudle (6-3, 199 sophomore) are well suited to the dropback passing game Auburn played in the past, the 6-1, 206-pound Burns is ideally suited to The Spread. There's a catch, though: He completed just 38.5 percent of his passes (10 of 26) last fall.

"Kodi is built more for a runner," Tuberville conceded. "He's not a natural thrower, never has been. But he's a great athlete ... was a great basketball player."

Todd isn't as a quick runner but he's a quick learner. That's why the junior college transfer managed to come out of spring practice virtually deadlocked with Burns for the first-team job.

"Chris is more of a thrower," Tuberville said. "He understands how to run this offense. You know, he was actually teaching Kodi a lot of the little things in spring practice – Kodi being with us for over a year, Chris being with us for a month."

Perhaps Auburn will find roles for both Burns and Todd. Tennessee utilized two quarterbacks who were polar opposites in 2004 with great success. Erik Ainge, like Todd, was the pure dropback passer. Brent Schaeffer, like Burns, was the scrambler.

"It's good to have different guys," Tuberville said. "If you had two (whose) strengths were the same, we'd probably be in a little bit of a bind. But having two guys with different mentalities, with different physical attributes, I think it's going to be beneficial to this offense."

The odd-man-out at Auburn appears to be Caudle. Tuberville described him as "a dropback guy who will play in this scheme for us but is not a Spread guy in terms of running the football."

But Tuberville, who once served as offensive coordinator for the Miami Hurricanes, went on to note that "Gino Torretta was like that, won a Heisman Trophy at Miami for us in the Spread offense."

Of course, Torretta was surrounded by so many great weapons at Miami that he didn't need to provide a running threat.

Despite its question mark at quarterback, Auburn is being picked by a lot of people to supplant defending national champ LSU as the Western Division's top team this fall.

"I think it's because LSU doesn't have a proven quarterback, either," Tuberville said. "I think if they had a quarterback coming back – with the type of players they're coming back with and coming off of a national championship year – it would have been hard not to pick them."

Given Burns' shortcomings as a passer, he may give way to Todd in certain situations this fall. The obvious question: Will that cause friction? Tuberville says it won't.

"They're friends," the head man said. "They work well together. Both will have to be successful for us to have some success."


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