AUBURN, Ala. — More than three weeks remain until Auburn runs on the field for its season opener against Arkansas on Aug. 30.
In the time leading up to kickoff, Rhett Lashlee is hoping to see a few things from Jeremy Johnson. But one attribute takes precedence for Lashlee.
He wants to see more maturity from the sophomore quarterback, plain and simple.
"He’s doing well. He’s doing everything I’m asking him to do," Auburn's offensive coordinator said. "It’s now time to kind of take that next step in the maturation process with everything — from leadership to knowing the offensive to execution to just the way you’re professional in meetings and all those things. That’s the next step for him."
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When pressed for specifics on Johnson's "maturation process," Lashlee took the opposite tack: To the coach, it represents "a little bit of everything."
There was one constant, though: Consistency.
"From the way he is in our meetings, to the way he is on campus, to the way he has his consistency level on the field, you can't have a good day and a bad day as often," Lashlee said. "You can't have a good practice and then go in the tank. (We're) just looking for him to take that next step, because he has the talent. He feels confident in knowing what to do and he's a great kid."
Last year, Johnson went through the same ringer most first-year players do: the dreaded freshman growing pains.
"You’re immature, it’s all new, you don’t know the offense, you don’t know anything," Lashlee said. "You’re eager to learn. So he did all that last year and he got to play and had success."
That success — which saw him complete 70.7 percent (29-for-41) of his passes for 422 yards and six touchdowns while backing up Nick Marshall — has Lashlee confident the Tigers won't miss a beat with Johnson in the starting lineup. He ascended to the top of the depth chart after Marshall's off-field indiscretion last month; following the senior signal-caller's citation for marijuana possession, coach Gus Malzahn said keeping him out of the starting lineup in the season opener would be part of his punishment.
While Marshall's temporary benching brought it to the forefront, Malzahn said he and Lashlee had already been discussing an increased role for Johnson this fall.
What that actually entail, however, is still taking form.
"The thing with Jeremy is that he played a lot last year. We feel like he’s very talented," Lashlee said. " ... There’s different thoughts, different ways we might implement that. That’s still kind of a little bit out there."
With Johnson getting the starting nod in Game 1, that time is fast approaching. After a year to immerse himself in the playbook, one of the Tigers' most experienced players vouched for Johnson's capability to flawlessly run the offense in Marshall's absence.
"Coach Malzahn always says that if Jeremy was at another school, he would start automatically. He's been doing good so far," senior offensive lineman Chad Slade said. "He's taking leadership like Nick's taking leadership. It's good to have two leaders like that on the team, especially back there. It's helping us out. I feel like they're ready to go whenever they get their chance. I think they'll be ready to go on August 30."
So similar are Marshall and Johnson, Slade said, it's nearly impossible to detect any change regardless of who's taking the snaps.
"(Johnson's) vocal. He shows by example. He's that person that gets everything under control like a quarterback should do with his offense. That's his offense," Slade said. "So whatever he needs to do, he does it. He leads by example, just like Nick. You can't really tell a difference when they're in."
No player had more faith in Johnson than Ricardo Louis, though. The way he saw it, people are making far too much of Marshall missing time.
The junior receiver would prefer to let the result at the end of the season's first 60 minutes speak for itself.
"We’re going to run with the fact that he (Johnson) is going to start," he said. "We’re going to win."