Charged with divvying up the reps at quarterback, Auburn’s offensive coordinator had his problem cut in half. Instead of splitting the snaps four ways as the case has been since preseason camp opened, Tigers coach Gus Malzahn said newcomers Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall would be the only signal-callers working with the first-team offense this week.
The other two candidates for the position went separate ways. Jonathan Wallace will continue fighting Johnson and Marshall for the job, while Kiehl Frazier bowed out of the race, deciding to move to safety.
With Marshall and Johnson now taking center stage, Lashlee tossed out various scenarios the pair will be put through this week as the team tries to move closer to making a final decision.
“How do they respond during ones-on-ones?” he said following Tuesday morning's practice. “How do they respond when good things happen, when bad things happen? When they get more reps, do they continue to get better, do they stay the same and plateau out? Those are all things we've got to see and we just can't see it if you're rotating three or four guys.”
Though each has his own strengths and weaknesses, Lashlee said the signal-callers are similar enough no changes have to be made to the offense.
“We’re running the same plays with all three of the guys that we’re still rotating in there,” he said. “Each one of those three guys probably does things a little bit different, but right now I don’t think there’s any part of the offense that we could or could not run with either Jeremy or Nick over the other. They could fulfill the same role for us.”
Lashlee said Marshall has done a good job with his decision-making during practices and scrimmages, as the junior college transfer’s eye-popping interception total (20) from last season stands out. The key to cutting down on those mistakes, Lashlee said, is simply attention to detail.
“You have to discipline yourself to make that a habit,” he said. “It’s not something you can just think about every now and then. You have to make it a habit, and that’s why we drill it every day. That’s why we have accountabilities. When we’re watching film and I see them with one hand on the ball, then we’re going to do accountabilities for that the next day to keep it in their head that is has to become something they don’t think about.”
As much as Lashlee doesn’t want to think about it, he said it gives him pause to contemplate the possibility of starting a true freshman such as Johnson.
Strike up the well-worn phrase (slightly modified in this instance): It’s one thing to do it in a practice or scrimmage, Lashlee said, but doing it when there are 90,000 people in the stands is an entirely different matter.
“Good things are going to happen, but bad things are going to happen,” Lashlee said. “So that's one thing you're also looking for when you decide, 'Who am I going to go with?' It's who I think that's when it's really good, they're going to be the same, and when things get really tough, they're going to be even-keeled. They're not going to be rattled.”
That’s why it’s on the coaching staff to make sure the quarterback they choose is ready for that type of pressure, Lashlee said.
When that determination will be made remains a moving target, though.
“We don't have a date, but the quicker you can decide, the quicker you can move on to preparing for your opponent ,” Lashlee said, “and you can (start) preparing for maybe getting that (offensive) continuity together.”