By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn began spring football practice Tuesday with experienced quarterbacks -- and a wide-open race to see who'll get the call in the season-opener.
Coach Gus Malzahn said Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and newcomer John Franklin III will get equal chances to win the job.
"We'll chart everything that they do in team settings and 7-on-7 settings. We'll give them all a chance to compete," Malzahn said. "Competition brings out the best in everyone."
Quarterbacks will likely be the focus for the public, but Malzahn has other players in his news feed: Tight end Chris Laye and linebacker JaViere Mitchell have left the team. He also said defensive back Tray Matthews, running back Kerryon Johnson and defensive back Jeremiah Dinson will miss spring with injuries. Defensive back Josh Holsey and receiver Stanton Truitt will be limited because of injuries.
Still, Malzahn said he's encouraged about the start of spring. "Our theme this year is: 'Earn it.' It's as simple as that. Earn your teammates' respect. Earn your coaches' respect. Earn it every day on the field and off the field. Our players came up with that and I think it's very appropriate."
Johnson hit 95 of 157 passes for 1,054 yards last season. White hit 83 of 143 passes for 1,166 yards.
"Both those guys are looking forward to a fresh start during the spring," Malzahn said. "We'll have good competition in that room. Everything they do we'll make sure we chart and grade everything and see what comes of it. My experience is when you've got good competition it brings out the best in everybody. I expect that quarterback room to do that this spring."
Franklin comes to Auburn with the threat of being a dual-threat quarterback.
"He's a guy that is very eager," Malzahn said. "He's done a good job so far of just being a good teammate, getting to know his teammates. We'll see what he does."
Johnson was the starter in the opener last year.
"I think Jeremy is just in a spot where he is ready to get back out there," Malzahn said. "It's a new year. He's done a good job of putting last year…behind him. He is laser focused moving forward. I think there are some freshness with that. He's got that look. Sean has that look, too. It's a new year and that's what we've been preaching to our guys. You can use those things as far as having that chip on your shoulder to help motivate you, but they are moving forward."
■ Malzahn said Laye will graduate and Mitchell already has his degree. Malzahn wished them both well, saying Laye is "a fine young man" and Mitchell "is ready to start his life and his career. He did a great job for us the last three years."
Mathews and Johnson each had shoulder surgery after last season. Dinson had a variety of injuries. He had shoulder and knee injury. Holsey had knee surgery and Truitt is coming back from a shoulder injury.
■ Auburn has four new graduate assistant coaches: Former quarterback/receiver Jonathan Wallace and former Hewitt-Trussville High offensive coordinator Austin Tucker on offense; and Rob Coleman, who worked with Malzahn at Hughes High in Arkansas in 1991; and Devin Ducote, who has worked with defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, on defense.
Former Auburn player Craig Sanders is also back, now as a graduate assistant on defense. Ishmael Aristide is also a GA on the defensive side. Brandon Whelan has moved from graduate assistant to defensive analyst as did Johnny Brewer on offense.
Jeff Nord is an offensive analyst and Eric Munoz is a defensive analyst.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine