AUBURN, Ala. — It took a while, but Auburn’s Kodi Burns finally feels like a receiver.
It’s been a little over a year since The Switch, when Burns, correctly sensing his future with the Tigers wouldn’t be as a quarterback, made a move to wide receiver in the preseason.
It cleared the way for Chris Todd to be the unquestioned starter and prevented any division like 2008’s disaster, something head coach Gene Chizik repeatedly praised as setting the tone for Auburn’s season.
But it also put Burns, a one-time four-star quarterback recruit from Fort Smith, Ark., at a strange position he’d never played.
“They just kind of threw me out there,” Burns said. “I didn’t have any idea of how to run routes or anything like that. … But I guess as soon as spring hit, I felt like a full blown receiver after that.”
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Burns is a different player this August, running routes correctly, making plays and maintaining his endurance.
“Last year he was a quarterback playing wide receiver, and now I really feel like he really understands it,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “And he’s capable of making big plays.”
During one scrimmage, Burns went across the middle on the first play and made a leaping catch over the top of a defensive back.
“It was exciting to see because a lot of people look at Kodi and say he’s just a blocker, but you watch and see how many times someone tackles Kodi,” wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said.
“The first guy that gets to him, he’s going to make that guy miss or he’s going to break the tackle.
“That’s the kind of kid you want.”
What’s the biggest difference? For starters, conditioning. Burns had been a quarterback for as long as he could remember. The position doesn’t require much running. Now, he can run all day.
“During the season, I was more explosive at the beginning than the end because I was just worn down,” Burns said. “I had never run that much in my life. … I think this season I’m prepared to go the full 13, 14 weeks.”
Athletically, Burns has always stood out. He was good enough to get on the field as a true freshman in 2007, making his debut at quarterback against Mississippi State in only his third collegiate game and rushing for 87 yards in a loss.
Even once he switched positions last August, he remained the team’s Wildcat quarterback, running for five touchdowns, all from 1 yard out, and throwing for two more. His secondary role was as a receiver, where he caught five passes for 46 yards, including his first touchdown against Georgia.
It made him the second Auburn player since 1980 to run, throw and catch a touchdown in the same season.
But the senior is expanding his versatility this year. In addition to his receiver work and part-time Wildcat duties, he’s thrown himself into various unsung special teams roles, earning praise from Chizik after one scrimmage for making a couple of key blocks.