BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. — If things turn out the way offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee hopes, Auburn will know who its starting quarterback will be a few weeks into fall camp.
But the Tigers won’t come to a decision until they are sure they have settled on the right person for the job — simply put, the player who gives the team the best chance at winning. Lashlee said there was “no cutoff line” as far as when as when the starter will be named.
“We have on our mind a date that, ‘Hey, we’d like to know by now,’” Lashlee said on Friday. “As quick as we can make that decision, we’re going to make it. When it becomes evident that this is the individual that needs to lead our football team and gives us the best chance to win, I don’t think you wait.”
In Lashlee’s best-case scenario, one of the four candidates for the position — junior Kiehl Frazier, sophomore Jonathan Wallace, junior college transfer Nick Marshall and true freshman Jeremy Johnson — will set himself apart from the others early on. That way, the starter will get a chance to build a rapport with his teammates.
“You give your team as much time leading up to that first game as you can to develop continuity,” Lashlee said, “and give them all the reps with the right guys.”
Since all four players are able to create plays with their feet, Lashlee said making them go “live” in practice and available for defenders to bring down won’t play a major factor in distancing one candidate from another. Lashlee echoed head coach Gus Malzahn in noting that with each member of the quartet equally “capable of winning the job,” discerning among them won’t be easy.
Because of that, Lashlee said it’s on him to “get creative” in divvying up the reps between them.
“That’s probably the one thing that will be somewhat challenging, because they’re all going to get reps,” he said. “But are they getting enough reps, and enough reps of things we need to see them doing?”
Lashlee wouldn’t rule out possibly going into the season with a two-quarterback system, either. However, he did emphasize it is both he and Malzahn’s preference to settle on one quarterback.
“At the same time, we’re going to do what gives us the best chance to win, and if it’s a two-quarterback system, then so be it,” Lashlee said. “But that’s not necessarily what we’re looking for right now. We’re looking for the one person who can lead our football team, protect the football and win football games.”
Being able to run the “Wildcat” effectively won’t figure into the decision, especially given the amount of former high school quarterbacks on Auburn’s roster. Lashlee gave a few examples, highlighting receiver Marcus Davis.
“What you do like is guys who either have played quarterback before, like a Kodi Burns did, or guys who have handled the ball a lot before, because you know you can trust them,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. We’re going to put a guy back there, but he’s got to be a playmaker and he’s got to be able to protect the football if you’re going to snap it to him.”
And while it’s the option of last resort, Lashlee said the Tigers would wait until the week before the season opener against Washington State to make an announcement on the starting quarterback if they have to.
“You’ll do that because I think the most important thing is getting it right,” he said. “If you get it right, then everything else will fall into place. What you don’t want to do is try to rush to get it done so quick that you get it wrong.”
Lashlee: Tigers’ receivers ‘need to step up and start making plays’
During SEC Media Days earlier this week, Malzahn said finding a “go-to” receiver was one of the team’s biggest goals during fall camp, the quarterback battle notwithstanding. Lashlee reiterated that sentiment on Friday, saying that the Tigers’ receivers need one player to make a move to the top of the class.
“Look, let’s just be honest,” Lashlee said. “We need Sammie Coates, we need Jaylon Denson, we need Ricardo Louis and those guys to step up and start making plays. And Ricardo and Sammie are younger, but it’s time to step up. And then you’ve got Jaylon, you’ve got Quan (Bray), Trovon (Reed), (guys) that have been here that are all going to be juniors. It’s time for them to step up and start making plays, too.”
While still searching for a lead receiver, Lashlee felt comfortable with the depth of the unit, despite 2013 signee Earnest Robinson not qualifying academically and the status of another potential freshman, Jason Smith, still up in the air. “Nine or 10 true receivers” was what Lashlee was hoping to have on this season’s roster, but counting players like Brandon Fulse and C.J. Uzomah, the Tigers won’t be lacking for receiving options.
“We’re obviously trying to sign enough young men in this class to get us to where we need to be numbers-wise,” he said. “But I feel good about having guys like (Fulse and Uzomah), who can make plays with their hand down in the backfield or split out. That helps us with wide receiver numbers.”
Lashlee not worried about rule change on spiking ball
Steve Shaw, the SEC’s coordinator for officiating, went over some alterations to the rulebook which have occurred during the offseason on Wednesday.
One of those changes involves a quarterback spiking the ball late in games. Under the new rules, at least three seconds will have to be remaining on the game clock when a quarterback spikes the ball for another play to be allowed. But if a quarterback spikes the ball with two seconds or less in an attempt to create another “set” play, officials would be required to disallow it, which would end the game in the process.
Lashlee was not bothered by the move, saying that getting the new rule into his quarterbacks’ heads would be as easy as teaching a new offensive wrinkle.
“That’s our job to coach them up,” he said. ” … Rules like that are nothing we have to do that no one else has to do, too.”