AUBURN, Ala. — If there were any lingering questions about Jonathan Wallace’s status this fall, they were put to bed this past weekend. It started Saturday, with Auburn coach Gus Malzahn announcing in his post-practice press conference that true freshman Sean White had grabbed the third spot on the quarterback depth chart.
That, of course, meant Wallace had fallen to fourth in the pecking order.
Then on Sunday, Rhett Lashlee further illuminated how White leapt past Wallace.
“I think that speaks highly of Sean more than negatively of Jonathan. Jonathan is solid,” said Lashlee, who serves as the Tigers’ quarterbacks’ coach in addition to his duties as offensive coordinator. “We've put Jonathan is a lot of other scenarios this fall camp to try to get him involved in more ways to help our team. Jonathan hasn't been with me as much. He's 100 percent a quarterback, but he's been doing special teams and other things.”
Specifically, those “other things” have meant holding on extra-points and field goals. But neither Malzahn nor Lashlee was ready to rule out Wallace taking snaps at quarterback at some point this season.
“We've got a lot of information on Jonathan. I think we're in a great situation. We feel like we have four quarterbacks we can play in an SEC game, three we know we could: Nick, Jeremy, Jonathan because they've done it,” Lashlee said. “ We feel like we have four guys who will travel, and if we need to put them in the game, I do have confidence in Jonathan.”
Those live game reps were few and far between for Wallace in 2013. The former Central star appeared in five games last year and attempted only four passes, completing two of them for 24 yards. He was able to do a bit more on the ground, rushing nine times for 49 yards.
But it paled in comparison to 2012, when Wallace took part in nine games, including four starts. That year, he connected on 57.5 percent (46-for-80) of his attempts for 720 yards and four touchdowns to go along with 51 carries and 152 rushing yards.
Then Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson joined the Tigers in the summer of 2013 as part of Malzahn’s first recruiting class as coach. Marshall came out on top of a four-way quarterback battle — besting Wallace, Johnson and Kiehl Frazier (who has since transferred to Ouachita Baptist, a Division II school in Arkansas) — in preseason camp last year, with Johnson nabbing the backup spot.
Wallace has been fighting for playing time ever since, and now that White is ahead of him, too, any chance at receiving quarterback reps this year may have vanished.
There was one bit of disconnect, though: Why did Malzahn and Lashlee freely state White was third on the depth chart while at the same time expressing hope the Florida native won’t have to play this season?
“You've got to prepare your team, and Sean has got to prepare. He's going to take third-team-type reps, which isn't a lot in a game week, but there are still times when you take those,” Lashlee said. “He needs to know. Jonathan needs to know. The team needs to know where we stand. We've got to have a plan going in. (White is) going to take reps and prepare to be the guy in that spot. We feel like he's earned that right.”
If things play out the way the coaching staff hopes, however, White would be “third” in name only. Marshall and Johnson are clearly 1-2; that’s not up for debate. Should the Tigers have the luxury of pulling their starters early in one-sided affairs this season — as well as having Marshall and Johnson avoid the injury bug — White won’t be next-in-line.
Instead, Wallace will get the call.
“You would think if the other two guys are healthy that would make sense. Who knows?” Lashlee said. “We weren't in many situations like that last year. We liked to take them all down to the wire last year. You would not burn a redshirt on a young man just to get him a quarter of action (and) hand off the ball off at the end of the game.”