Jeremy Johnson goes long in Auburn practice
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Jeremy Johnson is officially your starting quarterback for Auburn's season-opener against Arkansas on Saturday. You were expecting a returning quarterback or something?
Auburn will start its eighth different opening day quarterback in the last eight years when Johnson takes the field, and he'll be following in the footsteps of Brandon Cox, Kodi Burns, Chris Todd, Cam Newton, Barrett Trotter, Kiehl Frazier and Nick Marshall.
Coach Gus Malzahn formally announced Tuesday that Johnson will stand in for Marshall and will start in the 3 p.m. game opener in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Marshall, last season's starter, won't start as he serves a penalty for a traffic stop involving marijuana over the summer. But he will play, Malzahn said.
While Malzahn is waiting, he'll ask Johnson, twice an SEC freshman of the week last season, for a fast start.
"We have a lot of confidence in him. He knows the whole playbook," Malzahn said. "There's not one thing that I would say we're concerned about."
Malzahn said Johnson got good experience last year, winning his only start, against Western Carolina; and playing most of the way against Florida Atlantic.
"Even this year, we were going to have a plan for him being a bigger factor this year than he was last year, and he's earned that, too. He's very quality and he does a lot of things that can help us win," Malzahn said.
Malzahn said Johnson "learned the offense on the go" last season, then gave him a lot of snaps in spring practice.
"He was already pretty familiar with this style of offense because he did something very similar in high school. We have a lot of confidence in him to run our entire offense. He's very talented," Malzahn said.
Johnson will get the start, but Marshall still tops the quarterback position on the depth chart that was released Tuesday. The other high-profile offensive positions has Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne as co-starter at running back; and Sammie Coates, Duke Williams, Ricardo Louis and Marcus Davis starting at the various wide receiver spots.
Grant and Artis-Payne will be taking over for 1,800-yard rusher Tre Mason.
"We have confidence in both of those guys to run our entire offense," Malzahn said. "I know Corey, last year, was more perimeter but he can run the whole offense and really has improved in a lot of areas."
Artis-Payne "is a very confident guy, got a lot of quality carries last year … especially early. We know what we’re getting with him." Malzahn called Artis-Payne and Grant "1 and 1A."
Malzahn said true freshman Roc Thomas and redshirt freshman Peyton Barber are competing for the No. 3 tailback spot behind Artis-Payne and Grant.
The complete depth chart, which features nine newcomers on the two-deep list, is here. Malzahn said if a player, young or old, is on the depth chart "there's a really good chance they're going to play. We think we’ve got some talented guys. We feel like they’ve earned the right to be up there. We feel very comfortable."
Defensive back Jonathon Mincy tops the boundary corner spot on the depth chart, but, like Marshall, won't start Saturday because of off-season traffic stop involving marijuana.
Overall, Malzahn said, "our guys are just excited that the season's here. It's been a long offseason, the way the season ended in our last game, and our guys are looking forward especially to playing at home. I know our coaching staff feels the same, and we know we're playing a very good opponent and we're going to have to play well.
Malzahn also said…
• Roc Thomas has "a chance right there to be in the game. He's also got a chance to be a kick returner. Peyton Barber obviously has a chance. We really don't have a who's No. 3 or who's a No. 4 is. We have specific things that we feel both of those guys can do well."
• Malzahn said freshman Nick Ruffin "stood out and done an outstanding job on the defensive side" in landing the No. 2 spot at the Star position behind Justin Garrett. "We've had a lot of scrimmages with the young guys' emphasis, and he stood out and did a very good job in all of those."
• On listing C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse as co-starters at tight end and H-back: "I put 'or' because both of them are starters in our mind and there are times you'll see them both on the field at the same time," Malzahn said. "The thing about it, both of those guys give us a lot of flexibility. Both of them last year played outside receiver, inside receiver, X to the boundary, H, played with their hand down. It gives us a lot of versatility with those two guys and especially to move around."
• Malzahn said receiver Jaylon Denson, who missed most of last season with a knee injury is ready to go.
• On linebacker Anthony Swain: "He's responded well. He's earned his way back. He's got experience, he's got some big-game experience."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine