Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee answered questions from reporters for close to 25 minutes following Thursday’s practice. Twenty of them were spent discussing the state of the Tigers’ quarterback competition heading into A-Day.
According to Lashlee, Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and John Franklin III will split time with the first and second team offense “fairly evenly” during Saturday’s annual exhibition game.
Auburn hasn’t revealed the exact format of the game, but Lashlee expects it to be similar to previous A-Days.
“I haven't for sure decided, but probably give a guy two series with this squad, two with this squad, rotate them, just to try to balance it up to give them equal reps with
the ones and equal reps with the twos,” Lashlee said.
While the quarterbacks went live during a closed scrimmage earlier this spring, the trio will wear non-contact jerseys at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Lashlee would be comfortable filling out Auburn’s depth chart at quarterback if the season started tomorrow, but he’s not having those discussions with coach Gus Malzahn yet. Auburn’s coaching staff is going to let the competition playing out through the summer months and into fall camp.
“I have in my mind where I'd be right now if we played tomorrow,” Lashlee said. “We don't play until Sept. 3 so I don't have to worry about that right now.”
Lashlee wants to continue gathering information on each of the candidates and see how they build on the improvements they made during the spring. The quarterbacks will have a generally idea of where they stand once the team wraps up spring practice on Tuesday.
“The one thing I'll always do with those guys is be honest and straightforward,” Lashlee said. “Each one is going to know exactly where they stand, where we stand, where we are in the process. That's only fair to them. It would be that way for Sean, Jeremy, John, anyone, Tyler (Queen), on down the line. There's no question we'll be very forthright.”
In those meetings, Lashlee will lay out a decision-making criteria for choosing a starter similar to the one he shared Thursday.
“We need somebody to make plays,” Lashlee said. “You've got to be a playmaker at quarterback to win and to win championships. You're going to be hard-pressed to find many guys who don't have that. Secondly, can you be a playmaker but protect the football. If you can't protect the football you're not going to play. That's kind of where we are with those guys. Who can make plays, protect the football and at the end of the day step on the field and make those 10 guys better, that's how we'll decide it.”
Tempering expectations for JFIII
The junior college transfer from East Mississippi Community College will be the center of attention Saturday, but that’s how it’s been all spring for Auburn. The speedy dual-threat quarterback has captured the fan base’s imagination as someone who can be Nick Marshall 2.0.
Lashlee acknowledged the hype, but tried to caution against it less than 48 hours ahead of Franklin’s public debut.
“I think the expectations need to be tempered on him a little bit,” Lashlee said. “It’s a guy who was half and half with another guy at a junior college, and that’s not because he wasn’t good; the other guy was good, but that’s the way they chose to do it, so he’s got a lot of ball he needs to play at that position just from an instinctive standpoint to continue to improve.”
The buildup surrounding Franklin’s presence hasn’t spilled into the locker room where the quarterback has blocked out much of the noise.
“Honestly, he and I haven't talked one bit about that,” Lashlee said. “He's done a nice job of really just really diving in and being really focused and trying to learn the system.”
Franklin’s focus and “phenomenal” work ethic has helped the quarterback develop key areas of his game during the team’s 13 spring practices. He’s shown encouraging improvements throwing the deep ball accurately and developing a quicker release.
“The ball comes out of John’s hands well,” Lashlee said. “He’s got a strong arm. He can spiral the ball, snap it off pretty good. There’s been a couple things naturally that he’s worked on that I think that has improved a lot from Day 1 until now.”