AUBURN — Even though everyone outside the program has anointed Jeremy Johnson as Auburn’s starting quarterback for the season opener, until he hears it from Gus Malzahn, the sophomore isn’t taking anything for granted.
“I have no idea yet. Coach Malzahn hasn't sat down and told me yet,” Johnson said following Saturday’s practice at Jordan-Hare Stadium. “If he calls upon me to start the first game, I'm very confident and I know team is confident in me and I know they have my back. So if I'm called upon I'll be ready.”
Though Malzahn has refused to say publicly Johnson will be the starter in place of Nick Marshall, who will sit out indefinitely as punishment for his July 11 marijuana, it’s a foregone conclusion.
Only Marshall and Johnson have been taking reps with the first-team offense in preseason camp, and true freshman Sean White was named the No. 3 quarterback to open the season despite Malzahn preferring to redshirt the newcomer.
“He's leading the team just like he's going to be the starter,” Marshall said of Johnson, “and I'm just behind him 100 percent.”
Teammates and coaches have spoken highly of Johnson, praising his more vocal leadership, maturity and poise.
“I think last year, because he was a freshman, he was kind of passive for sure. And he’ll even say that,” tight end C.J. Uzomah said. “But I think this year, (offensive coordinator Rhett) Lashlee wants him to be more vocal and I think at times he’s shown that. Obviously this is camp, every day is not going to be perfect, some days we’re going to drag a little bit. We’re still going to execute, but the energy won’t be there.
“As seniors we’ll try to encourage a bunch of people, but at the same time we expect some of the underclassmen that we expect big things from to say stuff. (Johnson) and Marcus Davis, especially those two, they kind of start chirping a little bit, they say: ‘We’ve got to pick it up.’ If there’s a drop(ped) ball, he’ll say, ‘That’s on me, let’s go, let’s do it again. Let’s run the same play again.’ Or, ‘Let’s make sure we’re clicking.’ I think things like that have shown his growth and maturity.”
Johnson threw for 422 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions as a true freshman. He started against Western Carolina and played three quarters against Florida Atlantic.
When Johnson does start against Arkansas in two weeks it will be the biggest game of his career, but he says he isn’t feeling any pressure.
“I’m just looking at it as a football game, praying about it,” Johnson said. “I really don’t feel any pressure. I’ve just got to do what I’ve been coached to do and everything will pan out right.”
On Saturday, Malzahn said he would have “more clarity” on the quarterback situation next week.
“We need the quarterbacks making great decisions, knowing what to do, when to do it, how to do it,” Malzahn said. “That's part of playing the quarterback position. We have high expectations for Jeremy.”
The uncertainty hasn’t stopped friends, family, reporters or total strangers from asking Johnson if he’ll be starting.
“Everybody’s asking it and everyone know I couldn’t tell you the answer because I don’t know yet,” Johnson said. “It all depends on what coach Malzahn do, and how he does it. I pretty much (have) been ignoring everybody when they ask me the question.”