Malzahn defers starting quarterback decision with release of depth chart
by Aaron Brenner
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
May 01, 2013 | 2928 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
AUBURN — When Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn listed natural cornerback Joshua Holsey as his starting strong safety out of spring football practices, that was a surprise development.

When Malzahn refused to shed any light on who’s the king of the quarterbacks, that was not.

Junior Kiehl Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace left April the same way they went in: listed on the same line, the dreaded “OR” designation on the Auburn depth chart released Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ve not made any decisions. It’s a dead heat up to this point,” Malzahn said. “We gave them equal reps throughout the spring. Toward the end of the spring, we were able to evaluate them better.

“Both of those guys are capable of running our offense. I’ll be curious to see their progress once we get to fall camp.”

Of course, Frazier and Wallace aren’t the only options, and they might have surrendered whatever leg up they had on junior college transfer Nick Marshall and four-star prep prospects Jeremy Johnson and Jason Smith.

“Everybody coming in at every position will have a chance to start,” Malzahn said. “We feel good about a lot of these guys we signed having a chance to play.”

Malzahn has said repeatedly he would rather name a starter sooner rather than later, but the first of May is too early.

“Sometimes that’s not a negative,” Malzahn said. “Sometimes that’s a positive, and you’ve got two guys you feel like can do it. It’s a matter of giving everybody a fair chance. The quarterback position is a key position, so you want to make sure that once you make a decision, you’re 100 percent right.

“We’ll see who gives us the best chance to win.”

In all, up to eight returning offensive starters will be on the field in base formations. If Frazier or Marshall wins the job, they would add to a junior class of potentially eight starters.

Tailback was another position without a true starter named: Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant will all expect carries. Mason hit 1,000 yards last season, but an ankle injury allowed Artis-Payne and Grant to equalize the competition.

The starting wide receivers for now are flanker Trovon Reed, Jaylon Denson on the outside and Quan Bray in the slot. Jay Prosch is H-Back, CJ Uzomah is tight end, and a “3” receiver for spread sets will mix between Uzomah, Brandon Fulse and Melvin Ray.

The offensive line stayed the same as the second half of spring practices: Greg Robinson, Alex Kozan, Reese Dismukes, Chad Slade and Patrick Miller, left to right.

Prosch is the only senior on the entire offensive two-deep. Kozan, a redshirt freshman, would be the only rookie on the first unit.

As for defense, Holsey was recruited as a corner and played six games in 2012 there while Chris Davis was out with a concussion.

But since Davis and Jonathon Mincy have a stranglehold on those cornerback spots, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson found a way to get Holsey on the field.

“He’s a very good tackler,” Malzahn said. “You may have two or three at the same position early in spring that you say, boy, that may be one of our best 11 guys, so … we put him at safety. He looked like a natural and just made plays.”

Holsey, who’s listed next to returning starting free safety Jermaine Whitehead, is holding down the spot vacated by Auburn’s leading returning tackler Demetruce McNeal. After missing the final five spring practices because of off-field issues, McNeal is not on Wednesday’s depth chart.

“He is going to be in the mix,” Malzahn said, adding McNeal is 100 percent in good standing. “I didn’t put him in the top two right now, but he’ll have a chance in the fall.”

Justin Garrett remains the starting “star” hybrid player, and Kris Frost (mike) and Cassanova McKinzy (will) have a bead on linebacker positions.

The starting defensive ends are Dee Ford and converted tackle Kenneth Carter, while Jeffrey Whitaker and Gabe Wright are the tackles.

That makes for up to eight returning defensive starters — all on the line or in the secondary. Ford, Whitaker and Davis are the only seniors.

“Coach Johnson really worked hard on tackling and just the base fundamentals of playing their assignments,” Malzahn said. “I really feel like our tackling improved. You saw that in the spring game. There were some good open-field tackles, and we will continue to work in that direction.”

Aaron Brenner covers Auburn athletics for The Anniston Star and the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Contact him at abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com. Follow on Twitter @WarEagleExtra.
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