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Auburn’s uncertainty at quarterback could be long-term issue

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn quarterback Sean White (13) throws a pass during warmups before an NCAA football game against Georgia, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Auburn, Ala.
Auburn quarterback Sean White (13) throws a pass during warmups before an NCAA football game against Georgia, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Auburn, Ala. AP Photo

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee didn’t dismiss the question.

On Wednesday night, Lashlee was asked; given the team’s struggles, if he believed the Tigers’ 2016 quarterback is currently on campus? 

“Could be,” Lashlee said. “I don't really want to go there. I'd like to finish this season first. It's a fair question.”

Coach Gus Malzahn is rarely willing to discuss issues – playing time, injuries, depth chart – beyond the current week’s opponent. He was asked the same question Tuesday, and said as much.

“All I'm worried about is Idaho right now and trying to beat them,” Malzahn said.

Lashlee’s moment of honesty is a reflection of how Auburn’s season-long offensive struggles will have a lasting impact on the team’s quarterbacking situation - whether Malzahn wants to admit it or not.

The high and lows of Jeremy Johnson’s return to the lineup has only fueled the speculation over the future of Auburn’s quarterback situation.

While Lashlee praised Johnson’s demeanor through a vast amount of criticism, his character isn’t winning Auburn any games.

“There's a lot of people that don't go through something that he's had to go through,” Lashlee said. “To have all the weight of the world and those expectations at that young of an age and it not go the way you want it to, OK, and endure a lot of criticism and then push through it, come back and get an opportunity, lead us to a big win at A&M. For him to compete and still be competing, he had a phenomenal day today, you know, just the attitude he's had, to me, speaks a lot to the young man that he is.”

Johnson spent two years learning the offense behind Nick Marshall, performing well in a back-up role. He was supposed to be one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC, but the junior’s performance has been anything but All-SEC worthy.

For backup turned starter turned backup Sean White, injuries are cutting into Auburn’s ability to evaluate the redshirt freshman.

The knee injury White suffered against Arkansas is likely to keep him out a second game this week against Idaho. He played four series against Georgia, a decision the coaching staff now admits was a mistake.

“It was obvious after the fact. Sean practiced well on Thursday and for the first time had a pretty good pep in his step,” Lashlee said. “He wasn’t full speed, we knew that. So going in there, we thought he could go out there and compete and protect himself.”

White has shown flashes of potential through five starts, but not enough to make him an obvious answer at the position if he was 100 percent healthy.

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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