AUBURN, Ala. — As recently as two months ago, it appeared Auburn would open fall camp in August devoid of drama. There would be a few depth chart matters to sort out, of course, like who would start at running back in the season opener or who would man the left tackle spot. You know, typical roster stuff.
But it certainly wouldn't be as captivating as last year, when the Tigers started their preseason camp with a four-way quarterback battle. During the offseason that ended Thursday, two distractions surfaced. Worse, the two players who brought the unwanted attention were two of the most important pieces of the team: quarterback Nick Marshall and cornerback Jonathon Mincy, a pair of senior starters.
Now you can argue all you want about the seriousness of the issues — Mincy being arrested for second-degree marijuana possession while Marshall was given a citation for marijuana possession less than an ounce — and whether they should have been charged at all. People can note that if Marshall or Mincy had been in Washington and Colorado, where marijuana is now legalized for recreational use, the incidents wouldn't have seen the light of day.
Which is true — from the standpoint that while athletes are still tested by their schools and the NCAA, they wouldn't be placed under arrest (or even cited) by authorities for possession of less than an ounce as long as they're 21. (Basically, it's treated like alcohol.) Marshall is 22 and Mincy is 21.
What is every bit as true is that it still isn't legalized for personal, non-medical use in a majority of the country. It's a matter of knowing your surroundings. It's just like speed limits state-to-state — they vary. Going a certain speed that might get you stopped in one state wouldn't cause law enforcement to blink in another. It's the same with marijuana. Sure, more and more states — and by extension, the public as a whole — are becoming receptive to decriminalizing marijuana.
Still, it's a slow process.
Simply heeding this could have helped Marshall and Mincy avoid bringing embarrassment upon themselves and inducing headaches for Auburn's coaching staff. In a way, though, Gus Malzahn hasn't helped either story disappear, either. Each time he's been asked about what kind of punishment he'll hand the duo, he declines to give any insight.
Compare that to how Nick Saban handled the arrests of running back Kenyan Drake and defensive lineman Jarran Reed. At media days, Alabama's coach was blunt, saying both were "suspended from activity" with the team.
One could say they are different situations, and they'd be right: Marshall and Mincy are unquestioned starters with experience. Reed, who enrolled at Alabama this spring, started the A-Day game and was expected to be in the lineup from the outset of the season. Drake is a bit further down the totem pole, at best third on the Crimson Tide's running back depth chart.
But here's a not-so-well-kept secret: Malzahn continuing to let Marshall's and Mincy's fate fester isn't fooling anyone.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema stated outright that he believes Marshall will be taking the snaps when the teams square off in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Aug. 30.
"I think knowing what I know as a head coach, Nick will be there," Bielema said during his appearance at media days. "I think we want to play against the best and I'm sure he'll be there. Everybody has different rules. A lot of times those situations, even though coaches don't comment on it, a lot of times those things (punishments) are determined before that ever happens."
Based solely upon Auburn's drug policy, neither Marshall nor Mincy would miss any playing time for a first offense. But a coach always has a right to enforce stricter punishment if he or she deems that necessary. And who knows? Maybe that's what Malzahn will do.
The longer he lets these situations linger, however, the longer they'll remain headlines.
Each time media members attend the open portion of the Tigers' practices, all eyes will be trained on the quarterbacks and defensive backs. Are Marshall and Mincy getting reps? Did Jeremy Johnson work with the first-team offense? Was Marshall standing off to the side too long that one time while offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was conversing with the other quarterbacks? Did it look like Jonathan Jones or another player moved into Mincy's spot at boundary corner?
All of these questions (and more) will be recycled, discussed, debated, analyzed and hashed out for the entirety of fall camp until Malzahn finally tips his hand — if that day ever comes.
For a coach who treasures limiting distractions, Malzahn hasn't done a good job ridding himself of two that could have been rendered non-stories well before the Tigers reconvened for fall camp.