War Eagle Extra

Ready to run: Jeremy Johnson out to prove he's more than a pocket passer

AUBURN, Ala.Jeremy Johnson has heard it enough that he's gotten used to it by now: he's a better pure passer than he is a runner. And that pigeonholing began — fair or not — as soon as he joined Auburn in 2013: in a four-way battle for the starting quarterback position, Johnson was pegged as more of a polished, "conventional" signal-caller, juxtaposed against the other newcomer at the spot, Nick Marshall, the dynamic, fleet-footed athlete.

After two years of playing behind Marshall, the numbers seem to back up the contention Johnson is more comfortable in the pocket: in 13 career appearances (including two starts), Johnson has thrown for 858 yards and nine touchdowns, completing 73.1 percent (57-for-78) of his attempts.

His rushing stats aren't quite as gaudy: Eleven carries for 40 yards and one touchdown.

All the talk the past two years of him not being a threat in the running game ate away at Johnson.

"It frustrated me because no one has seen me run yet," he said. "I can't do anything about that."

Admittedly, his style isn't the same as Marshall's. He's not going to beat defenders to the edge or have them grasping at air as he jukes them out of their shoes. But Johnson knows what his strengths are, and he's fine with that.

"As a runner, I’m a downhill runner — the power-read instead of the read-option, which I’m going to do both," he said. "I can also use my feet if I have to if the pocket breaks down and make plays."

While outside observers can say what they want, Rhett Lashlee isn't worried. He pointed to Johnson's background at Carver High School in Montgomery, Ala., where he didn't just win the state's Mr. Football award as a senior. Johnson was no slouch on the hardwood, either.

"He was Mr. Basketball almost, should have been. He was runner-up for Mr. Basketball in high school, Mr. Football," said Lashlee, who pulls double-duty as Auburn's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "Guy is 6-(foot)-5 and a half, 6-(foot)-6, at the time (and) 220 or 230 (pounds) that can run in the 4.5s (in the 40-yard dash). Just overall great athleticism. What’s not to like?"

Lashlee's boss was similarly unfazed by any questions about Johnson's credentials in the running game. Yes, Gus Malzahn is sure the Tigers' vaunted rushing attack will do just fine with Johnson directing the offense in 2015.

Besides, those wanting to judge Johnson against Marshall — who set a school-record for most 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback (eight) and finished with 1,866 rushing yards overall, second-most of any Tiger signal-caller — are missing the point.

"Jeremy is a good runner in his own right. Now, he’s not exactly like Nick but he’s a very good runner. ... Compared to Nick, that’s really hard to compare," Malzahn said. "Nick is one of the better runners, from a quarterback standpoint, this league has ever seen."

So Johnson had no problem with outsiders continuing to take pot shots about his running prowess — or lack thereof. He was at peace with letting his feet do the talking this fall.

"The ones who haven't seen me run will probably be surprised," he said. "The ones who did see me run before wouldn't be surprised."

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