Player spotlight: Neil Caudle
Age: 21 (born 5/19/88)
Class this season: Junior
•2008, sophomore: Saw limited action behind Chris Todd and Kodi Burns. Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin disparaged Caudle during two-a-days for being prone to interceptions.
•2007, redshirt freshman: Saw limited action playing behind Brandon Cox and Kodi Burns.
•2006, true freshman: Redshirted while ostensibly rehabilitating knee injury suffered in high school.
The basics: Caudle played at Spain Park High, where he was phenomenal as a junior. He missed most of his senior season with a torn knee ligament. He still had a fairly high profile among some big college programs after his senior season concluded.
He never found a role during the Tommy Tuberville regime. It was reasonable to assume he'd get a shot in 2008, but Tony Franklin terminally soured on Caudle. The offensive coordinator deemed Caudle "unreliable" and that was the end of the story.
Caudle found new life under Gene Chizik and, more important, new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. The Tigers' new regime has a more developed appreciation for Caudle's passing ability and overall decision-making.
The skills: Caudle has what I'd consider an average SEC arm. He can make commanding throws inside of 25 yards without much issue. His deep balls lack the zip you'd see from Kodi Burns. Still, Caudle is more accurate. His throwing motion is refined. It's repeatable. His footwork is refined.
Caudle is not immobile. He lacks Burns' speed, but Caudle has little problem extricating himself from standard pocket pressure. I watched carefully when Caudle was asked to throw on the run. I wasn't impressed. His throws tended to float in those scenarios.
We're talking about a small sample size, though.
He is not a hyper player on the field.
The man behind the mask: Caudle is a fairly quiet kid who carefully measures the things he says. A lot of kids in his situation -- left for dead by a coaching staff -- would have sought a transfer to escape feelings of failure. Caudle didn't. He remained confident that continued improvement would give him a reasonable shot at playing time, which now looks like a shrewd decision.
Auburn wrapped spring practice without a clear No. 1 atop the depth chart at quarterback, which has to be considered a victory for Caudle. Armed with confidence, accuracy and an unusual drive to revive his career, Caudle is expected to be a major player in the quarterback race during two-a-days.
It's my opinion that Caudle's interception problems of 2008 were a function of compromised confidence. Franklin's approach to coaching football, which includes surprisingly blunt assessments, clearly didn't work well for Caudle. He lost his swerve. He has regained most of it.
The crystal ball for 2009: Caudle begins the season as Auburn's No. 1 quarterback.
Photo credit: Todd Van Emst/Auburn University
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