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Auburn's new quarterbacks will get shot at starting spot in ‘wide open’ competition

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

EMCC quarterback John Franklin III runs the ball during the regular season. (Bob Smith | East Mississippi Community College)
EMCC quarterback John Franklin III runs the ball during the regular season. (Bob Smith | East Mississippi Community College)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn spent the entire fall dodging questions about the team’s quarterback situation. 

When the discussion shifted to the topic at Malzahn’s national signing day press conference, he candidly addressed the issue for the first time in months.

“As far as our quarterbacks are concerned, I’m really looking forward to the spring to let those guys compete,” Malzahn said. “There’s a lot of good options out there, and competition brings out the best in everybody, so I think all those guys are ready to roll their sleeves up and get ready to work.”

Jeremy Johnson and Sean White will enter spring practice in four-way competition with junior college transfer John Franklin III and freshman Woody Barrett.

The two returning quarterbacks experience — they each started six games this past season — doesn’t sound as if it’s going to give either of them a leg up in a competition Malzahn described as “wide-open.”

“We’re going to see who the best guy is, and we’ll go from there,” Malzahn said.

While Barrett has been on Malzahn’s radar for years going back to when the coach first got the head job at Auburn, the team’s offensive struggles led the staff to bring an additional quarterback with experience. 

Franklin didn’t start receiving interest from Auburn until late September with the team’s offense stuck in neutral.

Malzahn turned to the junior college ranks where he had success with Nick Marshall to find a similar dual-threat option. The Tigers quickly identified the former Florida State backup who spent a season at East Mississippi Community College.

“John Franklin has got great speed,” Malzahn said. “We think he throws the ball well. He’s familiar with our offense so we’re definitely excited about what he can do.”

Franklin will have a head start on Barrett as one of Auburn’s nine early enrollees. The Florida native has been on campus since the beginning of January with the rest of his new teammates.

 “I think he’s fit in very well,” Malzahn said. “He’s a very likable young man. I’ll tell you the thing about our team is they’re very welcoming. The guys that come in, they just embrace them. I think he’s very comfortable and fitting in very well.”

Franklin might have a slight advantage, but Malzahn is equally interested in seeing how Barrett fits into the equation. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder has the perfect skill for Malzahn’s offensive system with an intriguing mix of size and athleticism to the plains. 

“We hand picked him,” Malzahn said. “He’s a true dual-threat quarterback. He can run it. He can throw it. He has that leadership ability.”

Malzahn acknowledged it might be a challenge in the fall to split up reps between four quarterbacks equally, but not unprecedented.

“We did that when Nick Marshall won the job in 2013 and I think we went about two weeks non-live and then we felt like we needed to put the ball down and go live and it kind of cleared things up,” Malzahn said. “In the spring I think that’s good. I mean, we’ll let these guys play and I think it will give us some good information before fall camp.”

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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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