AUBURN, Ala. — Calling it a “tough day for everybody,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik ended the speculation at the Tigers’ quarterback position Thursday, naming senior Chris Todd as the team’s starter while announcing Kodi Burns will work some as a wide receiver.
Players found out about the decision in meetings early Thursday, the ninth day of Auburn’s August practice.
“They handled it like true pros,” Chizik said. “Just with a lot of class.”
Todd, whose topsy-turvy college career has taken him from Texas Tech to Hutchinson Community College and nearly to Troy before he came to Auburn, sat out the spring after offseason surgery to repair his chronically sore throwing shoulder, watching as Burns and Neil Caudle played to a virtual tie for the top spot.
Todd resumed throwing during summer drills but didn’t throw in front of coaches for the first time until camp started last week.
“In the limited time he’s been in this offense, he’s shown the flashes that we needed to see,” Chizik said. “You can see that he’s studied enough to do a nice job in this offense. He’s got experience. He’s played in the league. He’s an older guy. There’s no substitute for experience.”
Todd and Burns battled for the starting job last year through the second week of the season before Todd, a Tony Franklin favorite, finally won the job outright. He started five games last year but was slowed by his sore shoulder. He finished with 903 passing yards and five touchdowns to six interceptions in seven games.
Winning the position this early this year came as a surprise to the senior.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Todd said. “I know what coach Malzahn’s expectations were and I know what he wanted to do, but I knew it’d be hard. I knew it would be a really short window of opportunity to win the job. So I knew I’d have to come out and compete hard early.”
Although Chizik did not designate a backup quarterback, he said true freshman Tyrik Rollison will be getting significant reps this August.
Burns, meanwhile, will play some at wide receiver and will still work as a quarterback in Auburn’s Wildcat formation. Burns asked to give a speech to the team after the announcement was made. “Truly, truly inspirational,” Chizik said. “Very heart felt. … He showed truly who he is today. A guy with a lot of character.”
“It was a little bit disappointing at first. Not a little bit. A lot,” said Burns, who isn’t considering transferring. “You’ve got to move on. I’m mature enough to handle this. I spoke to the team about it. We’re not going to be a divided team. We’re all going to come together. The Auburn Nation needs to get behind Chris as well.”
Still wearing the orange, non-contact jersey usually reserved for quarterbacks, Burns seemed to be in good spirits while working with the receivers Thursday, smiling and hamming it up while catching passes from a JUGS machine, none of which he dropped. Prior to another drill, wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor jokingly showed Burns how to line up as a receiver.
While Burns did receiver drills, Malzahn worked in the middle of the same field with the remaining four active quarterbacks on the roster — Todd, Caudle, Rollison and Clint Moseley.
Although Burns’ passing ability has come under scrutiny in his two years at Auburn — he’s 3-5 as a starter, a 50.7 percent career passer with eight career interceptions to four touchdowns — the 6-foot-2, 208-pound junior’s athletic ability hasn’t been questioned.
Burns was the No. 8 dual-threat quarterback in the country when he was recruited out of Fort Smith, Ark., in 2007. He scored a touchdown run in Auburn’s win against Clemson during the Chick-fil-A Bowl to cap his freshman year. Last season, he ran for 411 yards and five touchdowns, including a 158-yard, two-touchdown performance against UT-Martin.
Perhaps foreshadowing Thursday’s move, Burns worked as a Wildcat quarterback during practice this week.