The race to replace Nick Marshall as Auburn’s starting quarterback is officially open. With Auburn getting started with spring practices on Tuesday, head coach Gus Malzahn lit the green light on the competition for four candidates for the starting job in the fall; Jeremy Johnson, Jason Smith, Tyler Queen and Sean White.
Johnson is believed to be the leading candidate for the starting job when it comes time for Malzahn to make a decision, but the head coach told reporters on Tuesday all four quarterbacks will get close to equal reps this spring. Last season saw Johnson receive playing time in seven games, and he performed well in his back-up role. Johnson completed 27 of 38 pass attempts for 436 yards and three touchdowns without an interception thrown, and he rushed for another touchdown. It was Johnson that started the season for the Tigers as Marshall sat out for disciplinary reasons, but he never was given a chance to truly challenge Marshall for the starting job. This year is a different story as the veteran and trusted Marshall has moved on and the audition for the next starting quarterback is starting up.
“The first few days of spring you want to make sure when you’re installing the base offense you give these guys enough reps,” Malzahn told reports Tuesday, as reported by Al.com. “All four quarterbacks, including [junior college transfer] Jason Smith, will get “fairly equal” snaps.”
Malzahn has seemed very high on what Smith can bring to the table, but this still feels like Johnson’s job to lose. Malzahn also suggested there is no timetable for a decision to be made, and it might be possible Smith could be moved to a different position of need if he does not win a job under center.
In addition to addressing Auburn’s quarterback competition, Malzhan also confirmed some previously reported roster changes. Linebacker Anthony Swain and punter Jimmy Hutchinson were each reported to be off the roster last week, and Malzahn confirmed that today.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has yet to confirm the news, but multiple outlets are reporting he will be missing a couple of players for good. Linebacker Anthony Swain and punter Jimmy Hutchinson have reportedly left the team.
“I’m going to update our spring roster next Tuesday, so I’m going to wait until then and I’ll give you all the updates — not just with him, but with other people, too,” Malzahn said in a report by Al.com.
Both Swain and Hutchinson played mostly reserve roles on the Auburn roster. Swain put together 18 tackles and a sack during the 2014 season. Hutchinson was passed over for punting duties in favor of Daniel Carlson. His 22-yard punt against Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl in January seems to be the last we will see of Hutchinson in an Auburn uniform. Why either player is leaving the program is unknown, or at least unconfirmed, at this time.
Swain had previously been in Malzahn’s doghouse for an undisclosed reason in the spring of 2014. He would eventually be reinstated by Malzahn after missing some spring practices.
Auburn’s first day of spring practice in pads came with some injury news. Auburn defensive end LaDarius Owens will be sidelined for the remainder of the spring due to an undisclosed injury. Al.com also reports that linebacker Anthony Swain is not practicing with the team, but head coach Gus Malzahn is not shedding any light on the reason.
Owens has been seen getting around with a boot on his foot, so the injury is likely to be related to that, but Malzahn has not confirmed the injury status. Owens became a starter on Auburn’s defensive line last season, making his first start against Washington State. He recorded 28 tackles, with 4.5 for a loss. In the BCS Championship Game against Florida State Owens recorded two tackles and was credited with half a sack on Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Owens also played for the Tigers in 2012, although in a reserve role. He may be missing the remainder of the spring, but it would seem his experience to this point will serve him well and allow him to plug right back in when he is back at full strength. Owens redshirted in 2010 and appeared in six game sin 2011 as well. Owens is expected back for the fall.
The status for Swain remains a mystery for now. Swain was a backup linebacker last season and played mostly on special teams in 2012. He may be most commonly known for being suspected of faking an injury against Arkansas in 2013. Malzahn denied any faking of injuries at the time.