AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville joked that Brandon Cox had been wearing his bullet-proof vest this week.
At the very least, Cox needed a flak jacket to deflect the criticism following a game in which he had two interceptions, a crucial fumble and passed for 165 yards in an overtime loss to South Florida. Tuesday, Cox faced the media gauntlet who wanted to know if his job is safe. Coach Tommy Tuberville says Cox is his starter. Players say Cox is the starter. Cox says he knows no differently.
"I haven’t heard anything about it. I don’t know what’s being said," Cox said. "I am the starter. Nothing’s been said about it, so I’m just approaching it that way."
Tuberville gave his blessing to Cox, saying, "Brandon Cox is our quarterback. He’s a good football player. I think that Brandon’s kind of taken more on his shoulders the last couple of weeks than he probably should have. He’s just tried to force the issue."
Still, change may be in the air — although not necessarily at the top of the pecking order. Since Kodi Burns signed with the Tigers in February, fans have clamored for the Auburn coaching staff to use him much like Florida used its hotshot freshman, Tim Tebow, a year ago en route to the national championship.
The fleet-footed Burns could get his chance as early as this weekend. Wide receiver Robert Dunn said Burns had been running Tebow-esque plays during practice.
"They give him the same treatment Florida gave Tebow last year," Dunn said. "They’re kinda putting him in and letting him run a couple draws here and there. Y’all will just have to wait til Saturday to see what’s going on."
Tuberville has said repeatedly that he wouldn’t waste Burns’ freshman season unless he displayed an ability to help the Tigers win a game or if he ascended to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart. That time may have arrived.
Auburn officials said Burns had a class during the available interview period Tuesday. However, junior Blake Field spurred further speculation when asked about his backup status.
"I’m not at liberty to say right now," Field said. "Brandon’s still our starter right now. That’s all I’m going to say. I’m still working to be his backup if something happens."
Auburn players say Burns could definitely add another dimension to the offense, which has struggled mightily in the Tigers’ first two games.
"Speed and quickness," end Quentin Groves said when asked about Burns. "When he’s got it, you don’t know if he’s going to run it. Everybody knows he has a cannon too."
Groves said the team fully backed Cox, but acknowledged that a talented player like Burns could alleviate some of the pressure off Cox.
"I just got a glimpse of it today, but from what I’ve seen, (Burns) looks pretty good," Groves said.
Asked if Burns would play on Saturday, Groves turned cagey, as did Field.
"That’s confidential," Groves said.
Said Field, "We don’t know yet. We have no idea."
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Burns passed for 1,903 yards and 23 touchdowns and rushed for 835 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior at Fort Smith (Ark.) High. He was considered one of the top three recruits in Arkansas and was rated the eighth best dual threat quarterback in the country by Rivals.com.