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This mornings scrimage 3/13

No tailbacks? No problem for Auburn’s offense in Thursday’s spring football half-scrimmage.

Running backs Ben Tate, Tristan Davis and Mario Fannin are all out with injuries. Senior Brad Lester sat out Thursday’s session for undisclosed reasons.

That left AU with a handful of walk-ons in the backfield. And that meant a showcase for the passing game.

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Caudle had a good scrimmage throwing for 142 yards and three TD’s.

In their first spring scrimmage, the Tigers tried to ignore the tailback shortage. Lester, Fannin and three walk-on backs combined for 27 carries in that scrimmage. But the results — the walk-ons had 51 total yards — weren’t what offensive coordinator Tony Franklin wanted to see.

So Thursday’s half-scrimmage featured a very different plan.

“I hated to come out and run, knowing that every time we ran it, we’d be second-and-9,” said Franklin. “Even though I wanted the O-line to get some blocking work, the hard part is when they block everybody and you get 2 yards.”

So in Thursday’s session, Franklin turned his quarterbacks loose. Quarterbacks Chris Todd, Neil Caudle and Kodi Burns combined for 58 passes and 25 carries.

It wasn’t totally unbalanced — 13 of the 96 snaps were handoffs. But the focus of the scrimmage was definitely on the passing game.

“It was more of a throwing scrimmage,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “We wanted to put the quarterbacks under fire.”

Todd, who missed two weeks with a shoulder injury, made an impression in his first 11-on-11 appearance in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The junior-college transfer was 17-for-25 passing for 168 yards and three touchdowns, mostly with the second-team offense.

“It feels great to get back out there,” said Todd. “It’s been hard, obviously, not being able to do anything.

“I’ve got a few things I can work on, now that I’m getting back in the swing of things and getting comfortable out there.”

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Trott had a big day for the offense Thursday.

Though Franklin estimated Todd is still far from 100 percent healthy, he was especially pleased with his ability to avoid pressure in the pocket. Todd completed several passes on the run after being flushed from the pocket by pass-rushers.

“He’s got a great presence in the pocket,” said Franklin. “He moves well. He doesn’t panic. He’s a playmaker.”

Burns spent most of the scrimmage working with the first-team offense. The sophomore completed 7 of his 19 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns. He threw the scrimmage’s only interception, an end-zone pick by Jerraud Powers.

“He looked a little lackadaisical,” Tuberville said.

According to Franklin, Auburn’s orange no-contact jerseys, worn by all three quarterbacks on Wednesday, actually limit Burns’ game.

“When you’re playing touch, Kodi’s not as good,” said Franklin. “You touch him, and he’s down.

“A quarterback like him, he’s dynamic when he can run and pass. He’s not as dynamic if all we’re doing is dropping back and throwing every play.”

Caudle had his best scrimmage performance of the spring, finishing 10-for-14 for 142 yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore, who threw three interceptions in the first scrimmage, didn’t have any picks Thursday.

“(Caudle) didn’t make the mistakes he’s made before,” said Franklin. “He made a nice jump.

“You’ve got a really good problem right now, in that you’ve got three quarterbacks that are competing extremely hard. They’re all getting better every week.”

Once again, Franklin’s spread offense got plenty of receivers involved. Eight players had at least two catches, led by walk-on Charles Olatunji‘s five catches for 79 yards. Montez Billings also had five catches, for 42 yards and a touchdown.

But tight end Tommy Trott made the biggest impression.

Trott had four catches for 90 yards, including a 40-yard catch-and-run to set up a touchdown on the first-team offense’s opening drive.

“The fact that I’m outside, split out in a two-point stance, is so exciting for me,” said Trott. “That’s what I did in high school and that’s really what I like to do.”

Franklin is already looking forward to using Trott to create mismatches in the slot.

“He’s just a good football player,” said Franklin. “He’s going to be very dynamic in this offense. He can be very special in this offense. I wish everybody would play the way he does every day.”

After giving up 80 yards on six plays to the first-team offense on its opening drive, Auburn’s defense bounced back. Coordinator Paul Rhoads said he didn’t change any of his play-calls after the rough first drive.

Instead, his players stepped up.

“We spent 40 minutes not really wanting to work and prepare, and the ultimate result of that was a first-drive touchdown,” Rhoads said. “Then they made a decision that they wanted to play. We didn’t adjust anything. We didn’t change calls. We became mentally tougher and played better.”

Linebacker Chris Evans led the defense with 11 tackles and added a sack. Josh Bynes had 10 stops.

As a unit, the defense had 10 sacks. Sen’Derrick Marks led the way with three sacks, followed by Mike Blanc‘s two. Bynes, Aairon Savage, Craig Stevens and Antoine Carter each had one.

Marks is flourishing after moving back to defensive tackle this spring. He said he spent Thursday’s scrimmage testing out new pass-rush moves.

“I was just coming off just trying to work on a few pass-rush moves that I haven’t mastered yet,” he said. “I just worked on that, and most of it worked.”

Auburn will take off for spring break and resume practice Tuesday, Mar. 25 at 7 a.m. CT.

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