Take a minute to think about the QB situation at Auburn, which is currently in flux due to changes with the starters and coaching staff. Good-bye pro-style offense, hello spread.
Can it be? Auburn won't be lining up in a one-back or I-formation and playing power football? Get used to it, as the Tigers shifted to the spread and have entrusted the reigns of the offense to sophomore Kodi Burns.
Burns carried the ball 54 times for 203 yards last season, which was good for a 3.8 average. Considering college football counts sacks against teams' and players' rushing averages, Burns probably did better than his rushing average indicated.
In essence, the Auburn faithful need not worry about Burns toting the pigskin. The bigger issues lie with Burns's ability to quickly master the spread offense and become a leader, along with the obvious: making accurate throws. That will not be an easy task for a sophomore in the rugged SEC West.
Auburn welcomes back Ben Tate and Brad Lester, giving the Tigers, and more importantly, Burns, two excellent options to handoff, pitch, or throw to from the running back or slot position (watch for Lester to lineup in the slot to provide more speed).
Additionally, Mario Fannin moved to wide receiver from tailback, and he possesses excellent footwork and the ability to make defenders miss in space, a big plus for the spread offense. Still, Burns has a big role to fill.
Forget any commentary that Auburn's coaches spew to the SEC or national media this summer or during fall camp. All they are going to state is that they have the utmost confidence in Burns. What else are they going to say? "Hey, we know Burns is going to struggle this year…" Yeah, right.
The biggest help for Burns, however, begins with senior wide receiver Rod Smith, who caught 52 passes for 706 yards last season, for an average of 13.4 yards per reception. Smith will be counted on even more so now, with a new offense and new quarterback.
The big-play, and literally biggest, wide receiver for the Tigers will be Tim Hawthorne, a high-profile recruit from Homewood, Ala. entering his sophomore season. At a listed 6'3", 208 pounds, Hawthorne provides an inviting target for Burns, especially during third downs and jump balls close to the end zone.
Hawthorne secured just four passes last season, but is projected as a starter this fall. It will be important for him to play up to his hype, and size, for the Tigers' spread offense to gain momentum during the 2008 season.
The other wide receiver that is listed as a starter headed into fall camp is James Swinton, a senior who only caught one pass last season. Also, watch out for Montez Billings, currently listed behind Smith on the depth chart, but a player that corralled 28 receptions for 321 yards, for an average of 11.5 per reception during the 2008 campaign. Billings' 28 receptions being second to Smith for the 2007 season.
During the 2007 season, a young, Tigers offensive line proved to be inconsistent at times, but that inexperience has a year of growth behind it heading into the upcoming season. Sophomore Lee Ziemba started to provide flashes of his high-recruiting profile by the end of the SEC portion of the 2007 schedule, and will anchor the line from his offensive-tackle position.
All of the aforementioned players give Burns a chance to be one of the key components to the 2008 Auburn offense, and not the sole component of the 2008 Auburn offense.
Burns must still learn the nuances of the Tigers' new system and adapt to the players being lined up around him in unfamiliar territory, but he will not take on the burden of jump-starting the Auburn offense alone, at least not in theory.
Now, if the Tigers lay an egg during an early SEC game, of course the media will jump all over Burns, because he is the quarterback. Welcome to the SEC West, young Mr. Burns. Your time has come, ready or not.
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