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Auburn QB Competition wide open.


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A new era is about to begin for the Auburn football team.

For the past three years quarterback Brandon Cox has been AU's leader on and off the field. But with Cox's eligibility all used up, the Tigers must find a new starting quarterback.

That quest begins in earnest in a little more than two weeks with the start of spring practice.

Four candidates will vie for the position in the spring and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tony Franklin said Monday the competition will be wide open.

"They all stand exactly the same," said Franklin. "As far as I'm concerned, there's four guys competing and we'll give each one of them a good look and see where they are."

Sophomore Kodi Burns returns with the most experience. He played in nine games as a true freshman last fall including the Chick-fil-A Bowl where threw a touchdown pass and ran for 73 yards including the game-winner from seven yards out in overtime.

"The biggest thing that I like about Kodi is he's a competitor and a winner," said Franklin. "When he's on the field he's dynamic with the ball in his hands. What he's got to improve on is he's got to get a lot better throwing the football."

Burns completed 10-of-26 passes for 145 yards last season.

"He was a good thrower in high school," said Franklin. "I watched his film and everything seemed natural for him. When I first got here, he was very awkward.

"It got better between the time that we got here and the bowl game but he's still got a ways to go to get to where I'm confident in him being able to lead us down the field throwing it as well as running it."

Burns biggest competition for the starting job will likely come from junior college transfer Chris Todd, who joined the team in January. Todd signed with Texas Tech out of high school in 2005 but finished second to Graham Harrell in the battle for the starting job in 2006, and transferred to Hutchinson (Kan.) C.C. last fall.

"(Todd) is very good fundamentally," said Franklin. "All the details that are important to me, he's good at. He's been in the offense for five years. Parts of the offense, the things we've adjusted will be new to him, but 99 percent of what we've done he's been around it and knows it."

Franklin has followed Todd since his sophomore season at Elizabethtown, Ky., where he served as a consultant at the time. Todd threw for over 10,000 yards and 120 touchdowns running Franklin's offense in high school.

"He's got a really good arm," said Franklin. "He's not as dynamic as Kodi running the ball but I think he will be a good runner. He's a tough kid and a hard-nosed kid. He's a coaches' son so he's been around football all his life."

Perhaps the darkhorse candidate in the quarterback competition is Neil Caudle. The sophomore injured his shoulder in preseason practice last fall and played in just one game, going 0-of-3 against Tennessee Tech.

But Franklin liked what he saw from Caudle in bowl workouts.

"I like Neil's work ethic and I like his attitude," said Franklin. "He's faster than I thought when I watched him in the conditioning drills. I think he's a smart kid and wants to do it. I had confidence watching him prepare for the bowl that if we needed to use him, he would have been fine.

"I think the biggest thing for him is how well he moves in the pocket & and then getting better on the deep throws, the corner route especially. Anytime he has to put air under the ball, those are the things it looked like he was struggling with when I was out there."

Another newcomer added to the mix this spring is 2008 signee DeRon Furr. The 6-foot-3, 217-pound Furr enrolled at Auburn in January after leading Columbus (Ga.) Carver to the Class AAA state championship.

Furr passed for 1,567 yards and 13 touchdowns, and ran for 742 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior. Furr is a dual-threat quarterback that reminds Franklin of Omar Haugabook who starred at Troy the last two seasons.

"I think the biggest thing with him is he's a competitor and a winner and he reminded me of Omar," said Franklin. "(Omar) was a playmaker that seemed to get better as the game went on. I think the big thing with (Furr), like with all kids coming in, will be how fast you adjust to the speed of the game.

"There are a lot of really good throwers in high school because the guy closing on the ball aren't what they see out here. A lot of times in high school you can feather a ball in and it will still work. Here, if he does it, it's going to be intercepted."

With all four quarterbacks already in school and going through winter workouts, Franklin said the evaluation process has already started.

"We'll judge everything they do, from their workouts right now to their demeanor, class attendance, grades and the leadership roles that they take," he said. "When we go out on the field I'll watch every drill that they do and every throw that they make.

"I won't necessarily pick the guy with the best stats. I'll pick a guy that I think can win the most games. If it works the way it should, their stats should be fairly even throughout the spring. My experience tells me there is somebody that will be a better leader, somebody that will win more games."

Franklin plans to give all four quarterbacks equal reps to begin spring drills, but he wants to narrow it down to two candidates after the first week.

"It won't take long for me to pick a couple of guys and narrow it down to two and let them get most of the reps the last couple of weeks," he said. "From there if we can make a decision, we will. If not, we'll go into the summer.

"I don't think you have to (pick a starter). It's something that's nice if someone stands out clearly above everybody else."

Franklin rotated both Cox and Burns in the bowl game and he's not ruling out a similar approach for the 2008 season.

"Sometimes, like we showed in the bowl game, you can play two if you have to," said Franklin. "You can play three if you have to. The good thing is the way we do stuff, they all get a lot of reps."

Attention to details

Spring practice gets underway Thursday, Feb. 28, and Franklin said fundamentals and attention to detail will be high on the to-do list. He said they installed most of the offense during bowl practice.

Franklin has targeted the wide receiver position as an area that needs improvement.

"The biggest thing is doing the little things right, the details of route running in how to use leverage and how to stem and paying attention to catching the ball," said Franklin.

Franklin would also like to see better pass protection.

"With the talent that we have, we should be dynamic in our pass protection and I think we can be," he said. "We need to vertical-set and lock them down. The talent level is good enough here and the guys are tough enough. If their technique gets perfect, we should be able to go back and set and have plenty of time to throw the ball."

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