AUBURN, Ala. — Given the choice between talking about something or simply doing it, Jeremy Johnson has always chosen the latter. He's straightforward about this matter. Auburn's sophomore quarterback says all the things you'd expect. He prefers to "lead by example" instead of letting his voice dominate conversation.
During the offseason, that began to change.
"Being vocal helps the team a lot because people are kinda dragging through practice and they hear the quarterback's voice," he said. "They start picking it up. That's really what I've been working on."
His teammates have appreciated the effort. Last year, C.J. Uzomah could tell Johnson was "on edge." At practice, he'd make one perfect throw followed by an errant one — mistakes Uzomah believed stemmed from coach Gus Malzahn watching over his shoulder and evaluating Johnson's every move.
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That unsure, anxious player is gone.
"This year his confidence has grown because he knows we trust him. He knows where we’re going to be and we know he’s going to put the ball where it needs to be," Uzomah said. "So I think the connection with the receivers, he knows the line with protect for him, has boosted his confidence tremendously."
Uzomah then went on to note specific examples of Johnson's newfound voice.
"(He'll) say: ‘We’ve got to pick it up.’ If there’s a drop ball, he’ll say that’s on me, let’s go, let’s do it again. Let’s run the same play again,’" the senior tight end said. "Or, ‘Let’s make sure we’re clicking.’ I think things like that have shown his growth and maturity.”
Johnson feels the same way. Last year was about learning plays and formations. Now, he can fine-tune.
"I've been working on the zone read more," he said. "I'm hitting more checkdowns and calling the right protections and getting everybody in the right position."
A part of his game the coaching staff wanted him to polish up on was his footwork; or, in coach-speak, "the three-step drop." It's not that his footwork was bad.
Rhett Lashlee just wanted it to be better.
"It’s just something he didn’t do a lot of in high school so it’s not as natural as some others," said Lashlee, the Tigers' offensive coordinator. "Long, bigger guys it sometimes takes a little more time. He’s done a good job. With Jeremy it was footwork and his eyes."
One thing Lashlee and Malzahn have yet to discuss with Johnson? His status for the season opener. With Nick Marshall set to begin the game on the sideline as part of his punishment for receiving a marijuana citation during the offseason, Johnson is thought to be no-brainer pick to start.
He did last season, after all, starting versus Western Carolina and tossing four touchdowns in a 62-3 rout. Johnson also received extensive playing time against Florida Atlantic after Marshall left the game early with a shoulder injury.
Even so, Johnson reiterated he hasn't been told he'll run on to the field with the first-team offense come Aug. 30.
“Everybody’s asking it and everyone knows I couldn't tell you the answer because I don’t know yet," he said. "It all depends on what Coach Malzahn does, and how he does it. I pretty much been ignoring everybody when they've asked me the question.”
If the call comes, that's great. Johnson plans to embrace it. He's not going to make the moment bigger than it is, though. Sure, the quality of competition may change.
But the game doesn't.
"I’m really not going to be nervous. Football is football. I’m a football player," Johnson said. "That’s why I’m here. I’m really not going to be nervous."