That is, until Nick Marshall figured out what he was doing, which helped the Georgia native distance himself and eventually win the competition. Head coach Gus Malzahn announced the junior had won the race Saturday.
"The things that he felt comfortable with, we really feel like he'll have a chance to improve and get better each practice and each game," Malzahn said, describing how Marshall separated himself from the quarterback pack.
"He didn't have the luxury of going through spring, but what he knows he knows extremely well and has a lot of playmaking ability."
His talent was never more evident than during the Tigers' first scrimmage, when the quarterbacks went live. With chaos around him, Marshall didn't flinch.
That image stuck with Malzahn.
"They were flying around him, and I was right back there with him, and he seemed like it was 7-on-7 mode," he said. "I thought a lot about that, and that had something to do with (the final decision), too."
After that, Marshall said he began to find his groove.
"I can say it was about week two when I got comfortable," Marshall said. "With the plays we run, I got comfortable with them and where to go with the progressions. It just went from there."
Malzahn agreed, noting that by the second week of preseason camp, Marshall's understanding of the playbook and communication had put him on the same page as the coaching staff.
"Half the battle in our system is getting everything right before the play starts," Malzahn said. "Once you do that, then you start looking at what the defense is giving you and you worry about the progressions. So there's a lot to it. We ask a lot of our quarterbacks, probably as much or more than anybody in the country."
Malzahn already holds his new quarterback in high regard, saying Marshall is one of the most physically gifted players he has had a chance to coach.
"He's very unique, there's no doubt," Malzahn said. "He's a phenomenal athlete."
Malzahn's said he is willing to alter the playbook to take advantage of Marshall's strengths, though the hurry-up, no-huddle system is one Marshall feels is already tailor-made for him, since it's similar to schemes he ran in both high school and junior college.
What's his favorite aspect?
"I really like the read option, and the stuff that comes off the read option," he said. "That just helps me utilize my abilities."
Marshall said the biggest adjustment for him was simply learning the offense. He has already begun to develop chemistry with those he'll be targeting in the passing game this fall.
"Me and the receivers, we bond a lot, and joke around and all that," he said. "When it comes to the field, everything's serious, and (we) just lock in and do what we're supposed to do."
Fresh off the first practice with Marshall as the unquestioned starter, Malzahn immediately noticed his quarterback carried himself differently.
"He was a lot more vocal, and I think his teammates really responded to him. That's natural," Malzahn said. "It usually happens, and it's always good to see how a guy responds once you give him the keys to the car. ... He was encouraging, and it was good to see."
Inevitably, Cam Newton's name surfaced.
Malzahn explained how this year's preseason camp differed from spring practice three years ago, when Newton was named the team's starting quarterback.
"We never went live with Cam. ... If you would have watched Cam two and a half weeks into spring practice, in all fairness, you didn’t know for sure he was going to be the quarterback, everything wasn’t perfect," Malzahn said.
Marshall was also asked about the former Heisman Trophy winner. Yes, the two are talented athletes who play the same position.
The only other thing they have in common at this point, however, is that they can both count themselves as Auburn quarterbacks.
"I really can’t compare myself to him," Marshall said. "I just try to be myself.”
Ryan Black covers Auburn for The Anniston Star and the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @wareagleextra.