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Auburn camp preview: Offense has long way to go before season-opener against Clemson

Auburn quarterback Sean White warms up for A-Day on April 9, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn quarterback Sean White warms up for A-Day on April 9, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Where to begin?

The question marks facing Auburn’s offense entering fall camp are significant.

It starts with the three-way battle between Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and junior college transfer John Franklin III at the quarterback position.

Spring practice created little separation in the competition with coaches hoping to create scenarios early in fall camp to determine a winner.

White showed promise executing the passing game during A-Day and periods of practice open to the media, but the sophomore doesn’t have the athleticism of a true dual threat quarterback.

Malzahn isn’t shy about sharing his desire to get back to executing read option plays that made the offense so successful under Nick Marshall. The high value Malzahn places on Franklin’s home run speed makes the former East Mississippi Community College quarterback a legitimate candidate for the job.

“The challenge we have is defining and figuring out who that guy is that gives us the best chance to win games,” Malzahn said at SEC Media Days.

Malzahn also needs time to tailor the offense to the quarterback he chooses. The Auburn offense with Franklin at the helm will look different than if White or Johnson wins the job.

“You will see us tweak our offense to build around their strengths,” Malzahn said. “We're always going to have the same philosophy and core beliefs with our offense, but once we make that call on who that guy is, we will tweak and try to build around their strengths and try not to ask them to do things that are maybe not their strengths.”

The group should open camp with a real sense of urgency. The longer it takes for Auburn to decide on a quarterback the less time it will have to start genuinely preparing for Clemson.

The issues don’t stop there for Malzahn’s offense.

Auburn has made little progress in replacing its two most productive receivers — Ricardo Louis and Melvin Ray — from last year. The Tigers also lost its top target out of the backfield in Roc Thomas.

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said the top priority in the competition is finding “playmakers.”

Wide receiver Marcus Davis, who made a pair of big plays on A-Day, probably did enough during the spring to lock down one of the starting spot, but Lashlee might have to turn to the large number of true freshman on the roster — Kyle Davis, Nate Craig-Myers, Marquis McClain and Eli Stove — to help fill the two-deep at the position.

The known commodities for Auburn on offense is starting running back Jovon Robinson and a starting offensive line likely to include Robert Leff (RT), Braden Smith (RG), Xavier Dampeer (C), Alex Kozan (LG) and Austin Golson (LT).

Work still needs to be done figuring out the players standing behind them. A healthy Kerryon Johnson has a shot at landing an increased workload in the backfield while former Baylor signee Kam Martin is a name to watch.

On the offensive line, Auburn will work to develop the five players that redshirted last year along with developmental prospects Prince Michael Sammons and Prince Tega Wanogho.