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Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville speaks to his players after practice Monday.
AP photo by Todd Van Emst
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville speaks to his players after practice Monday.

Auburn still searching for No. 2 as four compete to back up Cox

By Ross Dellenger
sports@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

AUBURN — As Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville pores through endless cassettes of practice videotape from his batch of backup quarterbacks, there is always that little something in the back of his mind.

Whomever he and his coaching staff selects not only will be No. 2 on the 2007 depth chart but will be in the driver's seat for the starting quarterback position next season after senior Brandon Cox graduates.

"You keep looking for somebody that throws a spark into the team. That could be the guy that's getting ready to play against whoever we open up with next year," Tuberville said Monday at a news conference.

"We'll keep that in the back of our minds when we pick No. 2 going into this fall,"Tuberville added. "(He) will probably be the leader in the clubhouse going into spring practice because that guy is going to get a lot of reps."

That guy may be one of four players — junior Blake Field, redshirt freshmen Neil Caudle and Steve Ensminger, and true freshman Kodi Burns.

Since the end of spring training, plenty has changed among the group, except for this much: no one as been christened as the No. 2 guy and the possible heir to Cox's throne.

Offensive coordinator Al Borges said all the quarterbacks are being monitored very closely statistically — how many passes they complete, how many balls around the receivers that are not caught. But he said he will not rely strictly on statistics.

"It's a lot of factors. That's a major one," said Borges, who declined to name a leader because he has not gathered enough data.

"Based on what's happened so far, you have a nice even competition. Now, as you get more data, somebody will separate, particularly in the scrimmage," he added.

Coming out of spring training, Field, who has attempted a total of 40 passes in two seasons at Auburn, seemed to have the hold on the backup spot, but much has ensued since then.

The soap opera began at Southeastern Conference media days nearly two weeks ago when Tuberville said that it was actually Caudle, not Field, who held the No. 2 spot at the end of spring.

Field's response to Tuberville's soundoff?

"When I came out of spring, they told everybody there was not an assured No. 2," he said Monday after practice.

Caudle, who missed almost his entire senior season of high school and five games of his junior year because of knee injuries, was shocked after hearing Tuberville's comments.

"I was glad that he said that, but at the same time I knew we were still competing for the job," he said.

Stay tuned, because there's more confusion on the way.

Burns joined the mix Wednesday when he reported with all of the other true freshmen. Tuberville gave allusions of using the speedy Arkansas native as a possible Tim Tebow-style quarterback, relieving Cox by coming off the bench and acting as a running back in the shotgun or under center.

But that idea has slowly drifted away, or so it seems.

"Kodi is a big-time talent. Right now, he's a little lost, but what freshman isn't?" Borges said.

"We will decide after a certain amount of time what we'll do with Kodi."

The latest stage in this dramatic quest to find a backup play-caller came Monday, the fifth day of preseason practice, when Tuberville and Borges raved about Ensminger, who threw for 1,770 yards and 10 scores his senior year of high school.

"Don't count him out of the mix, either," Borges said.

Tuberville also had praise for the Louisiana native, who was ranked as the No. 15 quarterback prospect in the nation by ESPN.com.

"The guy that's really caught my eye the first five days is Steven Ensminger. He's throwing the ball a lot better with more authority. That's not to say he's the backup right now," Tuberville said, making sure not to slip up.

Although Borges and Tuberville have a lot more film to watch and a lot more stats to crunch, they are happy for now that the fab four get along.

Field calls Ensminger "a little brother" and characterizes Caudle as "one of my good buddies."

As far as Burns: "We've brought him in like another brother of ours."

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