HOOVER, Ala. — While Jeremy Johnson has never been more than a fill-in starter at the college level, few are regarding Auburn’s new quarterback as much of a question mark.
On the contrary, Johnson has been so solid as Nick Marshall’s backup the past two seasons, he’s widely regarded as a strength for a team projected to contend in the Southeastern Conference.
Coach Gus Malzahn makes it clear where Johnson stands: “This’ll be his team.”
“He’s in a good spot,” Malzahn said Monday at SEC Media Days. “His teammates believe in him.”
Some preseason publications are even mentioning Johnson — with all of two career starts — as an early Heisman Trophy candidate.
It doesn’t hurt that there is little proven star power at quarterback in the SEC, beyond Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott.
Johnson insisted he’s tuning out all that talk. He also said he grew in two years behind Marshall, who led Auburn to the BCS title game in the 2013 season.
“It was tough, but it made me realize that there’s more than football in the world,” Johnson told a gathering of reporters that was double the size drawn by teammates Jonathan Jones and Kris Frost. “It made me humble. It made me become a better person, and it made me become a better team player and a better role player.”
The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder started last season’s opener against Arkansas when Marshall was suspended for the first half. Johnson opened with eight straight completions and passed for 243 yards before halftime, so there is evidence to support the enthusiasm surrounding Johnson.
Johnson’s reputation is more of a drop-back passer than the shifty Marshall and even his similarly sized predecessor, 2010 Heisman winner Cam Newton.
Johnson said, like Marshall and Newton, he can be a threat both running and throwing.
Both he and Malzahn said the offense won’t change even though the coach calls Marshall “one of the better zone read runners college football has probably ever seen.”
Malzahn started recruiting Johnson when the player was a ninth-grader living 45 minutes from Auburn in Montgomery, Alabama.
Johnson ran a similar offense in high school and was athletic enough to be one of the state’s top basketball players as well as Alabama’s Mr. Football.
“He’s got everything it takes, I believe, to be a very successful quarterback,” Malzahn said. “He got a lot of reps with the (first-team offense) the last two years, too.
“He’s in a very good spot. We have a chance to run the entire offense.”