AUBURN, Ala. — The open receiver would pop into Chris Todd's vision an instant before the doubt would creep in.
Could the Auburn quarterback get the ball there in time? Was his arm strong enough? By then, sometimes, it was too late. Opportunity missed.
With an ailing, weakened shoulder, Todd couldn't always make the throws during his debut season with the Tigers last year after transferring in from junior college to play for offensive coordinator Tony Franklin.
"It was certainly frustrating," said Todd, a former standout at Elizabethtown High School. "At times in games and practice, I would see stuff open up, but that split second that you doubt yourself — Can I make this throw? — that's too much. It kind of messes with you a lot mentally."
Now, Todd is getting a do-over, starting with the Tigers' opener against Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
Despite being sidelined for spring practice following shoulder surgery in December, he quickly won over new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and Coach Gene Chizik and beat out Kodi Burns and Neil Caudle to reclaim the job he couldn't hold onto last season.
The shoulder that was injured in the next-to-last game of junior college in 2007 simply didn't cooperate.
Todd had put off surgery after coming to Auburn so he wouldn't miss spring practice. This time the decision to let Dr. James Andrews operate in Birmingham appears to be paying off.
"He's slinging the ball around. He looks so good," tight end Tommy Trott said. "Honestly, we saw that from him for a while last year. I'm not sure when his shoulder got tired. He says he was never 100 percent. We thought he was throwing the ball around really well last year at the beginning of the season. From what we see now, he wasn't there last year and being the competitor he is, he was trying to battle through things and just stay out on the field."
Staying on the field would be a nice starting point for the final season of Todd's strange odyssey. He started with Texas Tech, played in five games as a freshman, and then left rather than bide his time behind Graham Harrell.
Then came the juco injury followed by plans to sign with Troy. He altered course for Auburn to follow Franklin, who was then fired by the Tigers in mid-season.
Todd started five games, alternated with Kodi Burns in two others and then sat out the rest of the year.
"It's been a crazy road, being at Tech and getting to play there and experiencing that," Todd said. "Then experiencing junior college ball, because that's a different world in itself. Then coming here and dealing with the injury and all the things. It's been a wild ride. But I strongly believe that all those road bumps that you hit and all the hurdles that you have to overcome, that only makes you stronger when you get through that.
"It was hard going through those situations sometimes, but in the end I think it's made me a better person and better player."
Still, he didn't know if Malzahn and Chizik would be willing to wait long enough to give him a real shot at winning the job in fall camp. It only took him a week and a half to learn the answer.
"There were a lot of unknowns out there," Todd said. "I had to stay confident that I was going to get my arm back and that I was going to get a shot."
He made the same effort last season, even when he was booed amid chants of "Kodi" from fans when the offense was struggling in the Tennessee game. Now, Todd brushes off the criticism and says that's just part of the job and shows Auburn fans' passion for the team.
But Trott figures the experience has to be a motivator for the quarterback.
"You've worked real, real hard to succeed," he said. "He came over here and busted his butt and obviously last year didn't go the way he wanted. I'm sure he got a lot of criticism. That's just the way it is. That's SEC football. People are crazy about it and they care about it a whole lot. He got a whole lot of criticism, deserved or not.
"I'm sure he's real excited to get a chance to get out there and prove himself, show what he's really capable of doing."