BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s quarterback race saw a major shakeup on Monday.
Head coach Gus Malzahn announced the practice plan for this week is to split the snaps with the first team “50-50″ between the two newcomers — Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson. Malzahn said he and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee met with Marshall, Johnson, Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace on Sunday to discuss how things would look as fall camp progresses.
“We told them all we feel like (Johnson and Marshall) have earned the right to compete for the job and they’re going to get the majority of reps with our ones this week,” Malzahn said. “That’s not to say that Jonathan Wallace will not be our starter come Day 1, but we are going to give those two new guys a real chance to compete for the job and really show what they can do.”
While Wallace may not have been officially eliminated from winning the job, he won’t receive any snaps with the first-team offense this week. It’s also unlikely that he’ll move to another position, even if he ends up as the third quarterback on the depth chart.
“(He’s) a quarterback,” Malzahn said, “and he’s a good one.”
Frazier, on the other hand, voluntarily removed himself from the competition. During his Sunday sit-down with Malzahn and Lashlee, he proposed switching to safety to “help the team,” Malzahn said. Neither the coach nor the offensive coordinator argued against the move.
According to Malzahn, the transition to defense will be a permanent one for the former USA Today National Offensive Player of the Year.
“He’s going to be full-time safety,” Malzahn said. ”He can still do some things on offense, but he’s putting his energy into safety.”
With Wallace relegated to the background and Frazier no longer a factor, Malzahn noted Marshall and Johnson began to distance themselves the moment fall camp began, showing signs of improvement every practice.
“Both of them have extremely live arms,” he said. “They both can run and both of them are athletic. It’s just a matter of how quick they can get acclimated. We’re still looking for a couple of different situations to see how they react and see how their teammates react.”
Johnson’s inexperience hasn’t been a hindrance to him yet, and Malzahn doesn’t see that changing any time soon.
“Whoever gives us the best chance of winning and being successful will be our quarterback,” he said. “Obviously, it’s tough for a true freshman in this league, but if he’s the best and we believe he gives us the best chance of winning, he’ll be our quarterback.”
The reps with the first-team offense will be divided as equally as possible, Malzahn said, with the coaching staff keeping tabs on their decision-making every play.
“We’re trying to put those two guys with our main group as much as we can this week to see how they respond and really, to see how their teammates respond to them,” he said. “See who can move the ball, see who can protect the football and do the things it takes to be successful and to win.”
The Tigers will hold another scrimmage Tuesday, but the quarterbacks won’t be “live,” meaning they are not allowed to be tackled. The lack of contact will have no effect on the evaluation of the signal-callers, Malzahn said.
Despite the streamlining of snaps at the position, Malzahn refused to settle on a date for naming the starter.
“Obviously, we’d like to name something sooner rather than later, but that’s just the plan for this week,” he said. “That’s not to say we’re going to name somebody at the end of this week.”
Demetruce McNeal practiced on Monday, the first time he has took part in team activities since fall camp began. Malzahn said the senior safety was required to complete two acclimation periods (comprising Monday and Tuesday) before he can don full pads. “He was out there practicing today and looking good,” Malzahn said. … Hybrid safety/linebacker Justin Garrett’s left foot injury continues to improve, and he’s expected to be back at practice soon. “It’s day to day right now,” Malzahn said, “but it’s nothing to get too worked up about.” … Malzahn confirmed that wide receiver Tony Stevens returned to the field on Monday. The true freshman was battling a hamstring injury last week that forced him to miss the Tigers’ scrimmage on Saturday.