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August 19, 2013

Auburn football: Jonathan Wallace ahead of Jeremy Johnson in fight for backup QB spot

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — The competition to be Auburn’s starting quarterback is over.

Auburn's starting quarterback race has eliminated one candidate, as Kiehl Frazier voluntarily decided to move to safety. Head coach Gus Malzahn said Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall will split snaps with the first-team offense this week. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Jonathan Wallace (front left) is slightly ahead of Jeremy Johnson (back left) as they continue to battle to become Nick Marshall’s backup at quarterback. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

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.”

8 Comments

  1. No need to waste a year for Johnson…redshirt him and if something happens during the season where you absolutely need him you can burn it

    Comment by JR Marcus — August 19, 2013 @ 2:11 pm

  2. This seems the right way to go concerning the QBs, nice to have 3 quality QBs, and now a great safety in Frazer.
    I am so ready to start playing some football…

    Comment by Roger Rader — August 19, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

  3. I think if marshall was to just get injured to where he wouldn’t miss much time then Wallace will back up for that short time…but if Marshall was to go out early in the season for the remainder of the season then I think you burn Jeremy’s redshirt…im not saying Wallace doesn’t give auburn a chance to win,in just thinking that Johnson would more

    Comment by richyrich4AU — August 19, 2013 @ 3:35 pm

  4. I hope he would more…and the more and more Johnson learns the offense then the better he is gonna get..he is the future for auburn…and I can’t wait to see what he will do in it

    Comment by richyrich4AU — August 19, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

  5. I believe all of you are spot-on here, exactly in line with the coaches’ thinking. If they can redshirt Johnson, they’ll do it. No need to waste a year of his eligibility if he’s not going to play. If Marshall gets hurt late in the season, they’ll go with Wallace, and if it’s early (and Marshall can’t return quickly), they’ll likely take the redshirt off. The worst-case scenario is this: Let’s say Auburn is 4-0 and just completed an upset of LSU, but Marshall suffered a long-term injury doctors diagnosed following the victory. Do they stick with Wallace, or roll the dice and take Johnson off the bench? It’s interesting to ponder. –RB

    Comment by Ryan Black — August 19, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

  6. Jonathan Wallace is a “class act” and always will be. I am sure that he is disappointed, but I know Jonathan, I know his work ethics, and I know his abilities. I expect to see him moved to the #1 spot before the season is over!!! He won’t let this setback get him down. Actually, he was way to young last year to be put in the position that he was in. And he did help the team a lot then. “GO JONATHAN”!!!!

    Comment by PAT WALDROP — August 19, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

  7. So does this mean Tuberville is likely to run the scout team?

    Comment by sullivan013 — August 19, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

  8. Sullivan: I would have to think so. That was something Malzahn didn’t discuss last night. We’ll see if Lashlee can lend any insight this evening. –RB

    Comment by Ryan Black — August 19, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

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