BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. — Jonathan Wallace will be the invisible man this week.
After Auburn coach Gus Malzahn announced on Monday that newcomers Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall would split all the reps at quarterback with the first-team offense this week, Wallace became an afterthought. Many thought the move eliminated Wallace, for all intents and purposes, from becoming the Tigers’ starting quarterback this fall. Malzahn disputed that notion on Monday, and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee reiterated it Tuesday.
Malzahn and Lashlee came to the decision for one reason: They already knew what Wallace and Kiehl Frazier — who has since moved to safety — could do. The coaching staff had an entire spring to evaluate them.
Now they want the chance to do the same with Marshall and Johnson.
Lashlee described what he and Malzahn told Wallace when they sat down together on Sunday to map out the coming week at quarterback.
“We just told him going into this week, ‘We feel like we’ve got a pretty good grasp on what your strengths are and what you can do,” Lashlee said. “‘You’re not out of it. You’re still going to get plenty of reps. Just hang in there for the next couple of days. These two guys are going to get the bulk of the reps. We’ve got to see how they respond.'”
Wallace took the news in stride, exactly the way Lashlee knew he would.
“He understands it. He’s always ready and when he does get reps — like he got some reps today — he’s ready to take advantage of it,” Lashlee said. “He’s done what you would want an older guy to do: He’s been encouraging them. He’s been a perfect team player.”
But will he remain that paragon of selflessness forever?
Ryan Nelson thinks so.
The offensive coordinator at Wallace’s alma mater, Central High School in Phenix City, Ala., said his former player has always carried himself with a team-first mentality.
“Jonathan is the definition of a true team player,” he said. “He has been that way throughout his career, especially at Central. And I think Jonathan is going to embrace his role at Auburn, whatever it is. And he’ll do it to the best of his ability.”
One of the sophomore’s best attributes is his consistency, Nelson said. There aren’t any surprises with Wallace, who Nelson said brings the same thing to the table every day.
“You know what you’re going to get out of him when he steps on the field,” he said. “Off the field, there’s nothing to hide. That’s one of the characteristics of his personality. It’s the way he was brought up.”
Neither Wallace nor any of Auburn’s other quarterbacks have been made available to speak to the media since fall camp began, Frazier’s position change notwithstanding. That means, of course, no one has been able to gauge the mind-set of the contenders, to look them in the eyes and see how they react to questions, of both the simple and pointed variety.
Nelson couldn’t speak for Wallace’s thoughts on the competition — no one can do that but Wallace himself. However, Nelson said it’s safe to say Wallace should be “real excited” for the opportunity to become the face of the Tigers at the most prominent position in his sport.
Who wouldn’t be, after all?
“Just knowing Jonathan and what he was about at Central, he’s going to come to work every day,” Nelson said. “He’s going to give 100 percent on and off the field, he’s going to be as prepared as anybody and he’s going to go out there and compete and see what happens.”