War Eagle Extra

Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson’s struggles, benching last season as “hard as it gets”

Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson stretches at spring practice on Tuesday, March 22, 2016.
Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson stretches at spring practice on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn’s coaching staff didn’t pile on Jeremy Johnson when the quarterback’s struggles cost him the starting job.

It’s an approach the staff sees paying off this spring.

After benching Johnson for week four, coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee rarely spoke a negative word about their quarterback’s performance. The coaching staff focused on rehabilitating Johnson’s career by giving him multiple opportunities to win back the starting job.

“I mean, look, let’s call it like it is: He went through something that not a lot of guys his age—that’s about as hard as it gets, you know?” Lashlee said Thursday night. “He’s a kid, man. No one was more disappointed with how things turned out for him in particular than he was.”

The constructive approach culminated with the Montgomery native stepping up in a backup role to lead Auburn to a 31-10 win over Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl.

Johnson pledged to win the starting job following the Tigers’ first bowl win since 2011’s Chick-fil-a Bowl.

“Any time you end on a good note like that, that’s a positive,” Lashlee said. “Obviously he came in and gave us a spark, had a nice touchdown run, had a nice throw out there to get us a touchdown. You know, confidence in life is a fleeting, fragile thing, and the craziest things can have you lose it and the craziest things can bring it back to you. But he seems like a confident young man, and like I said, I’ve been proud of him thus far.”

Johnson has taken the reps with the first team during 11 on 11 drills the two times Auburn has opened practice to the media for extended periods of time this spring, but the competition is far from settled. Johnson, fellow returning starter Sean White and high profile junior college transfer John Franklin III are splitting reps and face a key test Saturday with the Tigers’ first scrimmage of the spring.

Franklin has garnered significant attention as a quarterback in the mold of Nick Marshall, but Johnson is quietly impressing coaches with his positive demeanor and body language.

“I think it just says a lot about him, how he’s bounced back, how he’s responded, his attitude, his work ethic and his demeanor and the way he is out there, you’d never know,” Lashlee said. “He’s just competing every day and trying to be the best he can be, so I’m really proud of him for that.”