AUBURN – Considering how his Auburn career finished, Jeremy Johnson had a lot to run away from.
Whether it was the way he lost the starting quarterback job in 2015, the way he never got it back in the following preseason or the way his senior year started when he was booed loudly at Jordan-Hare Stadium after a key interception against eventual national champion Clemson.
This spring, Johnson ran to Orlando in the hopes of fixing his game and his mental state as he prepares for a potential professional football career.
“Coming out of high school, I was coached, but I never had a quarterback coach and (at Auburn) the situation was what it was,” Johnson said earlier this month. “I appreciate them for giving me the opportunity. ... They give me the opportunity and chance. I feel good where I’m at.”
While in Orlando over the last two months, Johnson met with private quarterback coach Tom Shaw, noted for working with some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, including Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Tom Brady and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston. While at Shaw’s academy, which advertises itself as having tutored 11 Super Bowl MVPs, 10 No. 1 NFL draft picks and 145 first-round selections, Johnson learned that some of his mechanics needed tweaking. That included how long he held the football in his hand when passing.
“Coach Shaw taught me a different way of holding the ball, keeping space under the palm of my hand that changed the way the ball came out and as far as following through,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s grip on the ball was a major problem throughout his tumultuous 2015 season. It reached a low point on a humid day at LSU when a ball slipped out of his hands as he winded up to throw, which reportedly caused then-Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to rip the gloves off Johnson’s hands.
The backward pass to nobody became a popular social media. It summed up a day in which Johnson lost his starting job.
Johnson went to Orlando to work out and be a human sponge of information from Winston and rookie Pro Bowl selection Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys.
“I was coached up a little more as far as being accurate, footwork, mechanics,” Johnson said. “Coach Tom Shaw did a great job with Jameis and Dak. I was around some great people down there. I felt myself
again. I felt like myself.”
Johnson, who measured just above 6-foot-4 and weighed in at 232 pounds, would describe “feeling like myself” and closer to the gifted prospect out of Carver-Montgomery who was supposed to be Auburn’s next quarterback prodigy.
“I feel like what I’ve been through helped me become a man and mature me. I just love being around these guys,” Johnson said. “I feel OK, the past is past and I’m looking towards the future.”
Johnson didn’t go to Orlando to escape who he was at Auburn but to find the potential player that Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn saw in him when the coach brought him into the program. After Johnson spent four years with the Tigers, Malzahn has hopes that the quarterback can find what has
been ailing him and that the work with Shaw can help transform his career arc in the right direction.
“Jeremy has had his ups and downs but he hung in there,” Malzahn said. “I think that will carry him a long way in life. He's got great character. He's a great worker.”