AUBURN, Ala. — It wasn’t the quarterback news he had hoped to hear two weeks ago, but Neil Caudle will take it.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik announced after Friday’s practice that Caudle will be the Tigers’ No. 2 quarterback, beating out true freshman Tyrik Rollison for the backup role to starter Chris Todd.
“He’s worked really, really hard for this,” Chizik said, eight days before Auburn’s season opener against Louisiana Tech. “I’m really proud for him. If he has a chance to go in the football game, we feel like he gives us the best chance to win.”
A 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior from Spain Park High in Hoover, Ala., Caudle has only played in mop-up duty during his three-plus years at Auburn. He has thrown eight career passes, completing four of them for 32 yards.
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He and Kodi Burns dueled to a virtual tie for the top quarterback spot at the end of the spring, but Todd, who missed spring drills while rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, re-claimed the starting job Aug. 13. Burns moved to wide receiver while Caudle and Rollison battled it out for the No. 2 job.
“I wanted the No. 1 job. I couldn’t have that,” Caudle said. “To see improvement is definitely a good thing. I’ve been throwing the ball well. I’ve been more comfortable out there. The game has been slowing down for me.”
“If you just look at him right now, he feels like he has just a better comfort level now than maybe he did two weeks ago,” Chizik said. “We figured that would happen over time. We figured someone would separate (himself) and Neil’s done that.”
Caudle’s career has been dotted by a number of false starts. He separated his shoulder in a preseason scrimmage in 2007, and never factored into last year’s quarterback competition between Burns and Todd when Tony Franklin was offensive coordinator.
“Neil to me is the ultimate tough guy,” Chizik said. “He has been through a lot of adversity. He just keeps coming back. … I’m proud for him. I’m proud of him. It couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
Chizik said Friday’s decision does not necessarily mean a redshirt year for Rollison, the 6-foot, 194-pound dual-threat jewel of Auburn’s 2009 recruiting class. The coaches gave the freshman the majority of reps with the second team after naming Todd the starter, just to see what he was capable of.
“We don’t have any intention in that direction yet,” Chizik said of redshirting Rollison. “We’re going to keep working with Tyrik, and we’re going to keep, slowly but surely, feeding him pieces of the offense. Right now, there’s some things he does really well, and we feel like there’s some things we can really build on. (We’re) just kind of increasing his library of what he can and can’t do within the offense.”
Chizik said Rollison took the news well.
“He just wants to win, and he wants to be a great teammate,” Chizik said. “He knows he’s very talented, which he is, and he knows he’s got work to do. With a really, really good heart, he’s accepted it and will continue to work every day like he’s done.”
Todd is a senior, meaning the quarterback race next season will likely come down to Caudle, Rollison, Barrett Trotter, who is out this year after tearing an ACL, and freshman Clint Moseley, a likely redshirt candidate. Chizik warned that Friday’s decision does not mean Caudle has a leg up on the competition.
“Every year is a new year,” Chizik said. “It’s really hard to say. I don’t know that that would be a fair assessment at this point because every year is new and we’ll start it all over again.”