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Thursday, Apr. 01, 2010

Auburn football: Tigers having hard time deciding quarterback

- abitter@ledger-enquirer.com
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AUBURN, Ala. — After five practices, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is having a hard time narrowing down the Tigers’ four-man quarterback race.

“That’s a really good thing,” he said Wednesday. “We feel like we have four quality quarterbacks and we’ll be in better shape depth-wise going into this season than we were last season.”

Auburn’s quarterbacks — senior Neil Caudle, junior Cam Newton, sophomore Barrett Trotter and redshirt freshman Clint Moseley — have split reps evenly.

Now that the Tigers have installed almost everything in the offense they will this spring, Malzahn expects that group to shrink in order to give the potential starter more looks.

He just doesn’t know how much he’ll whittle the list or when.

“There’s no set plan,” Malzahn said. “We’re a timing offense and we’re going to try our best with guys that have the best chance of winning the job, we’ll try to hang onto those guys as long as we can.

“Once we figure that out and people separate themselves, we’ll start narrowing it down.”

Malzahn was exceedingly complimentary of all four candidates. He’s been pleased with the daily improvement of Trotter and Moseley and said the veteran Caudle “knows the offense just about as well as I do.”

But Newton, the top-rated junior college transfer in the country and presumptive frontrunner for the starting job, continues to pique more interest among Auburn’s fans than the rest.

“He has a better understanding of what’s going on,” Malzahn said. “In our system, there’s a lot of things that you have to know before the play even starts and that’s half the battle. He’s getting more comfortable with that so he can react and play football once the ball’s snapped.”

Ready for more

Cornerback T’Sharvan Bell made a splash in Auburn’s bowl game and so far has carried that over to the spring.

“His whole approach to things, to life, he’s made some major strides in that,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “I’m really proud of him.”

Bell, who redshirted in 2008, was held back last August with a knee injury and played sparingly on the regular defense. But he made a major impact in Auburn’s depleted secondary in the Outback Bowl, intercepting two passes in the Tigers’ 38-35 win against Northwestern.

Bell has settled in at corner this spring, backing up projected starters Demond Washington and Neiko Thorpe.

“He’s had a good offseason,” Roof said. “He just has to continue to work to get better. I’m confident that he’s going to do that.”

Unsettled at safety

Auburn hasn’t set a depth chart at its revamped safety positions yet. Mike McNeil (leg) and Aairon Savage (Achilles’) have worked their way back into a rotation with Drew Cole, Mike Slade and walk-on Ikeem Means.

“We’re just seeing how it sorts out,” Roof said. “Guys coming off injuries, you have to be careful how you bring them back. You don’t want to throw them out there to do too much too quick. There’s a certain process you go through when you come back to gain confidence.

“It’s a goal for those two guys to feel confident, where they don’t have to think about it, that it’s in the rear-view mirror.”

Zac Etheridge (neck) hasn’t dressed out yet and probably won’t this spring, although Roof said the senior is a full member of the team, taking mental reps and sitting in on all team meetings.

Daren Bates, an SEC All-Freshman pick at safety, is learning a hybrid safety/linebacker position.

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