BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. — For the third consecutive day, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn kept any information regarding the team’s quarterback battle close to the vest.
One difference on Sunday was that the Tigers started to mix-and-match the units the four candidates took reps with. Malzahn couldn’t remember, however, whether newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson took snaps with the first-team offense.
“I believe (offensive coordinator) Coach (Rhett) Lashlee tried to rotate them, at least with a different group than they’ve been working with,” he said. “They’ve only been working with the younger guys, and both of them rotated with the older guys.”
There was still little separation among Marshall, Johnson and the veteran pair of Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace. That might change once the coaching staff has a chance to sit down and break down film from practice, though.
“When you have a whole lot of reps and you’re going quick, there’s some good, and you really just (need to) get in the (film) room and see things,” Malzahn said. “All positions are being evaluated a lot better once we were in shells, and the quarterbacks were no different.”
Tight end C.J. Uzomah was impressed with the level of play from the quarterbacks on Sunday. He was surprised how well they moved around during the first day in “shells,” which consists of helmets and shoulder pads.
“They warmed up well and we had a lot of individual periods with them,” he said, before running down a list of the specific period numbers. “Once we started getting our timing and mesh correct in 7-on-7 and one-on-one in team periods, they looked spectacular, really.”
Malzahn didn’t share Uzomah’s sentiment, focusing on the mistakes his signal-callers made. The team’s first three fall practices have been marred by quarterbacks struggling with their decision-making.
“There’s always going to be turnovers when you’re rotating four quarterbacks, so it’s just a matter of protecting the football, making good decisions,” he said. “We’re going to put these quarterbacks in a lot of different situations, so there’s a lot of plays. There’s some good, there’s some bad. That’s to be expected when it’s that type of setting.”
Regardless, Malzahn said it’s still “too early right now” to make any proclamations about the eventual starter, which is the same approach he takes with every position on the field.
“You gather information at every position,” he said. “But at this point it’s way too early for me to be able to stand up here and tell you we’re going to be able to make it earlier rather than later.”
Team leaders remain the same
While Malzahn provided little insight on how the quarterback battle is shaping up, he had no problem highlighting the players he views as the team’s leaders.
All are pretty familiar faces, since it’s the same group who took on those roles during the spring: center Reese Dismukes and fullback Jay Prosch on offense and hybrid safety Justin Garrett and cornerback Chris Davis on defense.
They just haven’t had a chance to make their voices heard at practice yet — for good reason.
“You’ve got to understand that we’re straining them,” Malzahn said. “It’s hard to be real vocal when we’re practicing at the pace we are.”
Malzahn said safety Demetruce McNeal sat our practice for the third time in as many days. “But he’s getting better,” Malzahn said. The Tigers have yet to specify why the senior hasn’t participated in the first three days of fall camp, other than to say he’s battling an undisclosed “medical issue.”