HOOVER, Ala. — There have been rumbles concern new Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson for awhile now.
As an elite prospect out of Carver High in Montgomery, he elicited calls for him to get the starting quarterback job instead of junior college transfer Nick Marshall. Instead, he was given the backup role and showed flashes of brilliance in limited activity over the course of two seasons.
After Marshall graduated, Johnson was the unquestioned favorite to earn the starting job under center for the 2015 season. Analysts and odds sharks have such high expectations for the junior that he has been listed among the top three or four favorites to take home the Heisman Trophy at the end of the season.
On Monday on day one of the SEC Media Days, he finally got his time in the spotlights. And they were bright.
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“I’ve never seen this many cameras in my life,” Johnson said with a smile and a laugh. “It’s fun. I’m blessed to be here. I’m blessed for my family. It’s a great opportunity.”
One he’s wanted for a long time. Having grown up less than an hour down the road in Montgomery, Johnson said he has family and friends who constantly remain in touch, giving him encouragement — and keeping him grounded.
Despite taking a backseat for his first two years on campus, Johnson handled the scrum of reporters with easy, answering questions with a confident smile.
Johnson has thrown just 78 passes in his college career. He’s completed 57 of those for a mark over 70 percent and has tossed nine touchdowns to just two interceptions. But in a sample size so small, it’s very often difficult to make any assumptions.
And yet, there he is on lists of Heisman favorites, and there Auburn is on the short list of contenders to escape the SEC and earn a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Gus Malzahn wouldn’t make any predictions, but spoke instead of the enormous skill set his quarterback possesses. The arm has been well-documented, but the legs aren’t too shabby either, he said.
While some may have wondered if Johnson was too pass-oriented to run Auburn’s zone read, the coach put that thought to rest on Monday.
“He’s a better runner than you might think,” Malzahn said. “He will allow us to call of our offense.”
Johnson has rushed 11 times for 40 yards and a touchdown in limited opportunities, but he spoke confidently of his ability on the ground claiming a 4.6 40-yard dash.
“I can do whatever the defense gives us,” Johnson said. “If it’s calling for a run, we’ll run. If it’s a pass, we’ll pass. I’ve been running my whole life. I’m a North-South runner.”
His teammates said it has been the intangibles, not his athletic ability, that have already impressed them thus far, however.
Linebacker Kris Frost praised the running ability, but said it was his willingness to take on a leadership role already that has impressive him most.
“He just talks about doing all he can for our team,” Frost said. “He’s not worried about the hype. It’s great when you see one of your leaders talk like that. He knows how important it is for us to play together.”
The leadership is vital for Auburn this season, not just because he will be running the offense but because that unit is returning just four players.
“But he’s gotten a lot of reps with the first team the last two years,” Malzahn said. “I think (people) will be very impressed. He can really get it done.”