Bowl practices will jumpstart Jeremy Johnson era at Auburn
Bowl practices often serve as sort of a head start on spring practice, and for Auburn, that’s exactly what it needs.
There will be mass departures, the majority of which will come from the offensive side of the ball. The Tigers will say goodbye to the likes of Nick Marshall, Cameron Artis-Payne, Quan Bray, Reese Dismukes, Corey Grant and likely star wideouts Sammie Coates and Duke Williams.
While questions remain regarding who will fill the roles at some of those postitions, the Tigers do have one answer.
And that answer is at quarterback.
Jeremy Johnson — the former Mr. Football in the state of Alabama — takes the reins under center from Marshall following the bowl game. The rising junior will likely get the majority of reps during bowl practices, as head coach Gus Malzahn looks to get young players more reps.
“That is a big part, especially before you go to the bowl site,” Malzahn said on Sunday after learning his Tigers would face No. 18 Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. “I think that’s one of the big advantages bowl teams have, to get a chance to get some of the young guys some extra work, fundamental work.”
Johnson likely will be part of the rotation of young players getting reps, though he has seen game time during his two seasons on the Plains. As a true freshman in 2013, Johnson made his first career start against Western Carolina. The Montgomery, Ala., native completed 17-of-21 passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns.
As a sophomore this season, Johnson got the nod after Marshall was suspended for the first half of the season opener against Arkansas. He completed 12-of-16 passes for 243 yards and two scores.
His performance against the Hogs created somewhat of an outside quarterback controversy. Marshall’s job status was never in question inside the program, though Johnson showed what could do against the Razorbacks.
With Marshall exiting, Johnson now will slide into the starting role for Malzahn, whose “hurry-up, no-huddle” offense was originally known for how pass-heavy it was. The second-year Auburn head coach is the best in the game at adapting his scheme to his personnel, and he’ll do the same with Johnson under center.
While not as electrifying as Marshall, Johnson is as talented. He’s more of a pocket passer and is more accurate than Auburn’s senior quarterback. Johnson won’t break off a 50-yard touchdown run, nor will he rush for 100 yards per game. However, Johnson is surgical against opposing defenses and should lead a much different-looking Tigers offense in 2015.
Neither Coates or Williams has made their decision about whether to forego their senior seasons and enter the NFL Draft, but if Auburn’s dynamic duo does leave, Johnson will need these bowl practices to get an early start at getting familiar with a brand new slate of receivers. If Coates and Williams decide to return to what will be a more pass-centric offense next season, Auburn could have as good a triple threat as any team in the SEC.
Auburn fans ought to enjoy Nick Marshall’s final game on New Year’s Day.
Because when the Tigers begin their bowl practices, the Jeremy Johnson era is officially underway.