This was the day Jeremy Johnson had waited throughout all preseason camp. Time for him to let it fly in live action.
In the first passing oriented scrimmage Saturday, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said Johnson attempted "20-plus" passes and was "good" in working with the first-team offense. With statistics not being made public, Malzahn said he came away from the scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium with a more positive outlook on the offense than the first live team effort, which was dominated by the defense, on Monday.
"I think it was closer today," Malzahn said. "I think there was some good things on defense, and I think the offense came out and executed and performed better."
According to teammates, Johnson had at least a pair of big plays in the scrimmage, which Malzahn said was "70 to 75 percent passes", including a long touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis and a 30-yard swing pass to running back Peyton Barber.
Barber's catch on a wheel route out the backfield might turn out to be significant as the coaching staff has been impressed with the third-year sophomore running back's ability to help Johnson in pass protection. With Malzahn hinting the offensive plays calls percentage being 55/45 percent in favor of pass, having a back to pick up blitzes and dump the football to out of the backfield will be highly beneficial.
"We're going to be different obviously and we know we have a different quarterback with a skill set that isn't like Nick (Marshall) at all," running backs coach Tim Horton said. "So far we've been real impressed with all of them understanding the pass protections, and execute different things we're asking them to do. That group has to help Jeremy in several runs other than running the football."
Johnson's ability to make plays in the passing game and give Auburn's offense much more balanced has been the constant chatter, not involving D'haquille Williams, on that side of the ball.
"He went from basically being my little brother when he got here to now I follow his lead, because he has taken over that role," Auburn receiver Melvin Ray said. "Since the summer workouts and everything, I've seen him take over the team as a whole -- offense, defense, just being a leader, regardless of everything he does."
Saturday's scrimmage was Johnson's first live setting in preseason camp where he could prove his ability to lead an offense to a much faster tempo despite pass attempts expected to rise significantly in 2015.
"You can tell there's a different sense of urgency, a different level of focus, and it's been great," Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "More than anything, he's been performing well, which is the No. 1 thing you can do to lead - go out there and show them how to do it."
With or without being able to count on the services of senior receiver Duke Williams in critical situations, Johnson will be expected to get numerous inexperienced personnel ready for a 2015 campaign full of championship hype. Malzahn mentioned Saturday that the second scrimmage of the preseason was about evaluating who will be able to help Johnson get comfortable early in the season.
"In fall camp quarterbacks are trying to get everything right around them just right," Malzahn said. "I like the way he has responded to Coach Lashlee. I like the way he's responded to his teammates really on both sides of the football. That's a big key."