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Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham looks for running room. Top ranked Alabama traveled to Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday to take on the 6th ranked Auburn Tigers in a winner-take-all for the SEC Western division title. Auburn won the game 26-14. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

AUBURN — Jarrett Stidham won’t likely be ready to start spring practices on time following offseason shoulder surgery.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn confirmed this likelihood Wednesday in his National Signing Day news conference, saying the Tigers starting quarterback won’t be cleared to participate fully until after the spring break gap in the program’s 15-practice routine.

According to the university calendar, Auburn's spring break runs from March 12-16 and Malzahn said Wednesday that the start of spring practices would be pushed back from Feb. 27 to March 1.

The A-Day spring game is scheduled for April 7. Auburn has not released a practice schedule for the spring workouts, but it assumed Stidham would be available to participate in the spring game despite an undergoing a minor surgical procedure on his left shoulder last month.

Stidham was seen Wednesday walking around the Auburn athletics facility with his left arm in a sling and brace for protection.

Stidham finished the 2017 regular season leading the Southeastern Conference in completion percentage (66.7) and had 3,158 yards along with 18 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He could be considered a possible preseason Heisman Trophy candidate and All-SEC selection in a 2018 season — with Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts and South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley as likely candidates.

Stidham’s absence for the first couple of weeks of spring practice will mean more practice opportunities for sophomore-to-be Malik Willis and early enrollee Joey Gatewood. Willis finished the 2017 season in a backup role to Stidham and had one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown in mostly mop-up duty over seven games. Gatewood passed for 1,468 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for 1,100 yards with 16 scores as a senior while leading Bartam Trail High School in Jacksonville to the Class 7A state title game in Florida. The 230-pound quarterback was the highest ranked prospect of any of Auburn’s early signees back in December.

New punter

Malzahn addressed a major area of need by signing a player from Melbourne, Australia, on Wednesday.

The Auburn punter position, which had the 13th best yardage average in the Southeastern Conference last year with the combination of Ian Shannon and walk-on Aidan Marshall, looks to have a new starter this season in the form of 25-year-old Arryn Siposs.

“He’s a great athlete,” Malzahn said Wednesday. “He can kick it with his right foot or his left foot, and he’s going to give us a lot of flexibility with our punt team.”

Siposs has been playing professional soccer in the Australian Football League for the past five years and scored 22 goals before beginning a training program with ProKick Australia. Since 2013, punters out of the ProKick Australia system have been finalists or winners of the Ray Guy Award given to the nation’s best punter in college football.

Signing surprise

Caleb Johnson, a three-star defensive lineman from Columbus, Ga., was the only prospect not previously committed to Auburn who signed with the Tigers on Wednesday.

Johnson chose Auburn over scholarship offers from Florida and Georgia after being primarily recruited by Tigers defensive line coach Rodney Garner.

“He’s a guy that really stood out to us when he came to our camp and ran a 4.7 (time in the 40-yard-dash),” Malzahn said Wednesday. “He plays a lot of different positions for his high school and really feel like he’s going to give us a lot of flexibility to move him around. Very good athlete at his high school to play wide receiver and tight end to make some great catches.”

Johnson, who is likely to compete at Buck linebacker for Auburn, recorded 104 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, eight sacks, two blocked kicks and three defensive touchdowns as a senior in high school.