BY RYAN BLACK | email@example.com
AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn spiced up Auburn’s four-way quarterback battle on Wednesday.
With the Tigers holding their first scrimmage of fall camp, the head coach decided to make the quarterbacks “live,” meaning they were fair game for defenders. All four candidates for the position — Kiehl Frazier, Jonathan Wallace, Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson — took snaps during the scrimmage, with Malzahn saying they had “fairly equal reps.”
Malzahn couldn’t think of a better way to assess the quartet than to open them up to contact.
“I thought it was very important, especially when you’re trying to evaluate four guys, to give them a chance to make plays, just like a regular football game,” he said. “So that’s the way we ended up.”
The last time Malzahn could recall lifting the “no-contact” restriction on quarterbacks at practice was at some point during the spring. But it’s not every day a team has so many quarterbacks bidding for the starting spot this close to the regular season, either. It wasn’t a decision Malzahn sprung on his signal-callers at the last minute.
The coaching staff informed them of the plan earlier this week, wanting to give them time to mentally prepare for it.
“When it’s not live, you’re blowing the whistle,” Malzahn said. “You don’t if they could break a tackle, you don’t know if they’d escape pressure. It gives you a chance to evaluate them. I think all four guys were extremely excited to be live.”
The junior safety described the mood among defenders when the news first surfaced.
“Seeing them put on the blue jerseys today definitely put a smile on our face as a defense,” he said. “We got a chance to get after them today.”
Being a member of the secondary, it was added motivation for Whitehead, who said the quarterbacks run their mouths a bit too much for his liking.
“Man, don’t let them complete a pass,” Whitehead said. “They carry it on for the rest of the day. Whoever completes a pass is going to talk.”
The defense was able to silence the signal-callers a few times during the scrimmage, as Whitehead happily noted there were at least two interceptions, maybe three.
“I don’t want to miss nobody,” he said. “I know Chris Davis had one and Jake Holland had one while I was on the field. I don’t know who had ones on the second and third teams.”
Holland was already enthused when he heard there were no limitations on tackling.
Picking off a pass was just icing on the cake.
“We were doing a little blitz in red zone,” the senior linebacker said. “I was a hole player. I was spying the quarterback. I got lucky because he threw it right to me. It was about a 70-yard return.”
Seventy yards was good.
It just wasn’t good enough.
“I was gassed at the end,” he said. “I was caught at about the 20-yard line.”
The interceptions weren’t the only way the defense made it tough on the quarterbacks. Whitehead said they got their fair share of licks, too.
“We got to them in a couple of sacks and smashed down to the ground a little bit,” he said, “but I don’t think we got to take anybody’s head off.”
But the quarterbacks dished it out just as well as they took it when they decided to keep the ball themselves.
“The ones that think they bad, they can run somebody over,” Whitehead said. “They took their chances with the ball when they got it. They got that yardage. They tried to hit us back, which was good to see from me — that they would deliver a blow.”
That’s exactly the kind of give-and-take Malzahn hoped to see when he opted to go live.
Whether the Tigers will make the quarterbacks open to contact again is a topic for another day, though.
“I don’t know. I’ll sit down with (offensive coordinator) Coach (Rhett) Lashlee and we’ll see where we’re at,” Malzahn said. “It’s a possibility.”