By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Kodi Burns is Exhibit A to what Auburn wants to be.
Tough. Physical. Team guy.
The quarterback-turned-blocking-receiver on Auburn's 2010 national championship team is now an Auburn assistant coach, and exemplifies what offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee wants out of his guys this season.
"Kodi is a great example of a selfless mindset and attitude. When the team wins, everyone benefits," Lashlee said. "He portrayed that greatly as a player, not only by changing positions, but knowing what his role was. Our guys need to focus on being a star in your role. Kodi did that well. Throughout that season, he did a lot of the dirty work blocking down field. And when the national championship game came up, who caught the first touchdown pass? He did.
"He's instilling that character as a group."
Lashlee is relying on that positive attitude heading into Saturday's 8 p.m. season-opener against Clemson in Jordan-Hare Stadium after tweaking his offense. Sean White was named the starting quarterback in the middle of preseason work. Lashlee will have a new 1-2 punch at running back and bunch of freshmen receivers in backup roles. The experience comes in the offensive line.
First up, though, is putting the offense back in hyper-drive.
"The biggest keys for us this year is we've got to focus on more explosive plays, something we weren't good at last year, but have been good in the past," he said. "We've got to generate explosive plays in our league because it's hard to drive the field consistently. The one thing that can help that is to play with better tempo.
"We're really forcing the issue and emphasizing explosive plays, and making the critical plays in the critical moments to win those close plays."
"That," said coach Gus Malzahn "was the edge of ours in the past, and that's got to be the same this coming year."
Auburn worked three quarterbacks through the spring: Veterans White and Jeremy Johnson and junior college transfer John Franklin III.
"Jeremy has lots of experience in our system, and he ended the season protecting the football and giving us a chance to win," Lashlee said. "For him, it's making critical plays in critical moments. Our quarterbacks have to make some plays, and not always when everything is perfect. Sometimes things break down. The challenge is to come up in clutch moments."
White, who missed time last year because of injuries, and Franklin, who needed to be bigger for the SEC, each gained about 15 pounds in the offseason.
"Sean needs to stay healthy, and the extra weight will help him."
Lashlee said the extra weight shouldn't slow Franklin.
"He's extremely fast. But he's not played a lot of quarterback in big games. Instinctively, there's still a lot to develop. He's going to be him instinctively progressing each week. "
Lashlee said he wants his receivers to follow Burns' lead.
"We've got to get back to being tough, physical Auburn receivers on the perimeter. We were soft last year. We weren't good blocking. We weren't great being physical on our routes. And we didn't catch the ball very well," Lashlee said.
"We've got to do a better job of catching the football, and just being physical. When you're not throwing the ball, another way to generate explosive plays is to turn that 10-yard run into a 30-yard run because we spring the running back. That's what important at the receiver positon."
Veterans Marcus Davis, Tony Stevens and Jason Smith will lead the way.
"But as the year goes on, we're going to need a Ryan Davis, we're going to need to the young guys. We're going to give those guys an opportunity to make an impact."
Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway jumped in line to assume the tailback duties. Johnson is Auburn's leading returning rusher. Pettway figures to be a power back after playing H-back last season.
"He's going to be tough to tackle," Lashlee said. "Once he gets to that second level, there are not a lot of guys in the secondary who are going to want to tackle him. He might not outrun everybody, but they still may fall off him."
The offensive line has experience in Austin Golson, Alex Kozan, Xavier Dampeer, Braden Smith and Robert Leff. They're ready to play together.
"It's definitely important for chemistry," Kozan said. "When guys are getting shaken around on the offensive line, they never really settle into a comfort zone. I think you guys kind of saw that in 2014 when I was hurt. We had guys playing two or three positions during the year. It’s not that they can’t do that, but you don’t execute as much as if you played one position strictly. So it definitely helps with our cohesion."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine