By Andy Bitter - firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s football team had the day off a week ago Monday, but not Kodi Burns. The quarterback-turned-wide receiver took it upon himself to go to the Tigers’ indoor practice facility and work on the finer points of his new position, catching over 100 passes on a JUGS machine.
Word spread. Other wideouts got text messages from teammates. Soon, every one of them was there, working alongside Burns.
“That is off Kodi’s leadership,” wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said. “They don’t want to get out-worked by him.”
It has been nearly two weeks since Auburn’s coaches named Chris Todd the starting quarterback and introduced the radical idea of moving Burns to wide receiver in order to get his athletic abilities on the field.
And while Burns’ receiving skills continue to be a work in progress — hence the never-ending JUGS machine work — Taylor promises the junior will have a role in his rotation of receivers.
“With Kodi moving into the wide receiver room, that has opened up some doors and closed the slot for somebody else,” Taylor said. “He’s going to be out there. He’s proved that he can make some plays.
“For me, it’s like having another coach in the room. He understands this offense. He knows where the receivers are supposed to be. The confidence he bring to that room was really shocking to me. He has that presence about him. It makes a difference.”
The Tigers plan to use the 6-foot-2, 208-pound Burns in a variety of ways. The junior, who still does occasional drills as a regular quarterback, has worked at both outside wide receiver positions (the “2” and “9”) and some at H-back (the “3”). He’s also an option in offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s Wildcat formation.
“Pretty much, I’m all over the place,” Burns said.
Running with the first team during 11-on-11 work Tuesday, Burns, still wearing his orange quarterback jersey but not restricted from contact, motioned toward the quarterback off the line on one play, hovering in the flat after the snap and remaining a receiving option for Todd. On another play, Burns stayed out wide, took a step back at the snap and caught a screen pass that went for a small gain.
“Every time he comes in the game, it doesn’t have to be a trick play,” Taylor said.
But getting Burns up to speed as a conventional wide receiver will take some work. Despite his athletic range, Burns had never played receiver before the switch. Although elusive with the ball in the hands, he’s working on fine-tuning the most elementary parts of being a receiver.
“I’m really raw,” Burns said. “I don’t have the preciseness that I need to have at wide receiver right now. ... The hardest thing about it is you know exactly what they do, but at the same time you’ve got to know where to line up. Should you be two (steps) above the numbers or two below the numbers? Just different things for different plays. I know the routes, I know who you’re supposed to block, so it’s pretty much just the lining up part and executing the route.”
The Wildcat formation seems right up his alley. Normally reserved for a speedy running back (Malzahn used Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden in the role while with Arkansas), Burns has the elusiveness and throwing ability to keep a defense honest in the single-wing set.
As the quarterback in the formation, Burns can hand the ball off to a running back streaking laterally, keep it himself or, if the defense creeps up too far, throw it to a receiver over the top. During one scrimmage this August, Burns faked the hand off and burst up the middle untouched for a long score.
With so many duties already, is there anything else on his plate?
“It’s up to the coaches,” Burns said. “You know we’re working some stuff up. We’ll see what happens.”
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