BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. — The competition to be Auburn’s starting quarterback is over.
But the battle to be first in line behind Nick Marshall may have just started.
Head coach Gus Malzahn hinted at Jonathan Wallace having a slight edge in the competition following Sunday night’s practice.
“He will be the next guy in if something were to happen to Nick,” Malzahn said. “We have a lot of confidence in him, and his teammates do, too. He understands the offense and he understands the complete playbook.”
He put true freshman Jeremy Johnson nearly neck-and-neck with Wallace, a sophomore.
“I’m not going to say 3, maybe 2A,” Malzahn said of Johnson’s place on the depth chart. “He also really impressed us. He’s got a lot of physical tools. He understands how to run a fast-paced offense because he did it in high school, and really impressed us and did a solid job.”
Malzahn didn’t say when he hoped to come to a decision. At this point, he feels fortunate to have two quarterbacks (Marshall and Wallace) he trusts can get the job done when they are on the field.
Johnson isn’t far from reaching that point, either.
“It’s a great luxury to go into the first game with a guy we have confidence in, that if he goes into the game, he’s going to be able to get everything right and execute,” Malzahn said. “I think we’re in really good shape right now going into the season. Like I said, Jeremy Johnson, if he keeps improving, he can be ready also.”
Malzahn couldn’t say enough good things about Wallace and how he handled himself during the race. The head coach has seen the Phenix City. Ala., native improve since the spring, forcing Marshall to up his own level to earn the starting job.
Given the respect the coach has for Wallace, it was difficult to break the news he would begin the season as a backup.
“He’s a class young man (and) he handled it like a champ,” Malzahn said. “I know he’s probably hurting, but you wouldn’t know that. He’s very supportive of Nick, and that helps our team.”
Marshall agreed, noting Wallace had offered his assistance every step of the way.
“Me and Jonathan, we’re cool,” he said. “And he just told me, basically, if I need help with anything, just come to him and he’ll help me with it.”
Malzahn said the coaching staff will continue to take its time with Johnson, especially since a redshirt could be in the offing. And if that happens, Malzahn said, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. If that’s the case, it meant Marshall and Wallace avoided injury.
Still, it’s a bit too soon to make a final call on whether Johnson will sit out this season.
“We’re still bringing him along,” Malzahn said. “He’s going to get reps in practice and he’s going to understand what happens. He made it interesting. It’s very hard to do for a true freshman to make it interesting, but that says a lot about him.”
One thing Johnson won’t have to do is join the scout team. Malzahn unequivocally ruled that out, saying the Montgomery, Ala., native will dress and travel to every road game this fall.
“He’ll be with us every practice, and he’ll get some reps,” Malzahn said. “Like I said, one guy goes down, then you’re one play away. We’re going to keep him ready.”