AUBURN, Ala. — Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn stopped short of saying Thursday’s decision to go with Chris Todd as Auburn’s starting quarterback was a relief.
A few of the team’s senior leaders did it for him.
Cornerback Walt McFadden and running back Ben Tate spoke for their teammates Friday, satisfied that the Tigers’ quarterback race reached a conclusion in early August instead of stretching into the regular season like last year.
“I’m proud of my coach,” McFadden said. “Last year at this time, we were still (playing) those little games as to who’s going to be quarterback, who’s not. …
“Back then, we still had people that were, ‘I’m for Kodi Burns, I’m for Chris Todd, I’m for Kodi Burns.’ That kind of split the team up. It got to the position with who was starting the game, we were like, ‘I don’t know, man. We can’t win it with him.’ Now that we already have a quarterback, we already know who our quarterback is.”
Last year’s competition between Todd and Burns left a sour taste in the mouths of many players, who disagreed with former offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s method of splitting reps and rotating two quarterbacks until two weeks into the regular season.
“It was a bunch of nonsense,” Burns said. “Things weren’t handled the right way. This year, the coaching staff came in and everything was fair. Everything was a great chance.”
“We know it was a fair competition and everybody was out there competing,” Tate said, refusing to talk about last year but implying enough. “And we’ve seen all of them get their equal fair shots. Everybody could notice that and the coaches just decided to go with the best guy.”
That proved to be the senior Todd, who sat out the spring following offseason shoulder surgery but impressed coaches enough with his experience and grasp of the offense to beat out Burns, Neil Caudle and freshmen Tyrik Rollison and Clint Moseley.
“As a quarterback, he’s kind of got that ‘it’ factor, where he’s got some things that you don’t have to coach, that it comes natural to him,” Malzahn said. “That’s important, and it’s probably more savvy than anything. That’s what I’ve been impressed with.”
“He’s a natural leader,” Tate said.
Todd will get all of the reps with the first team the next three weeks as Auburn prepares for its season-opener at Jordan-Hare Stadium against Louisiana Tech on Sept. 5.
“We can start letting him lead the offense,” Malzahn said, “working with the No. 1 receivers, getting the timing down, working with the center and the offensive linemen — the little things that it takes to coordinate between those groups. That’s very important.”
Burns, meanwhile, will try his hand as a wide receiver or a Wildcat quarterback, anything to get on the field.
“Our deal is we look to get our best 11 players on the field,” Malzahn said. “He’s not only one of our offensive leaders, but one of our team leaders. He provides great character and great leadership for all of our players.”
Burns demonstrated that with the way he took Thursday’s news, urging unity behind Todd in an umprompted speech during a team meeting that left teammates and coaches impressed.
“He knew what happened last year, it kind of divided the whole team up,” McFadden said. “He noticed if he would have done something else, it could have hurt the whole team. When coach (Gene) Chizik came in, we started doing a lot more things as a team. The team is all together. We’re not in crews or cliques or anything. We all want it.”
Said Tate: “It took a lot of heart for him to do that.”