Quarterbacks A Priority For Malzahn

Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn discusses the quarterback race for the Tigers heading into fall practice.

Hoover, Ala.--Many question marks stand out when you look at the 2013 Auburn Tigers, but the quarterback position remains the hot-button topic for Coach Gus Malzahn as his first season on the Plains gets ready to start when the team reports on Aug. 1.

With returning starters Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace in the competition along with newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson, Malzahn said it's a wide open race this preseason.

"We have the four guys and we're going into this thing with very open mind," Malzahn said. "Whoever gives us the best chance of winning and once me and Rhett (Rhett Lashlee) are 110 percent sure who that is then we'll name them. Hopefully, earlier rather than later. You think back to four years ago and we were in a similar situation with Chris Todd. I believe he won it after nine practices.

"That's a good thing because it gave us a chance to work on our timing and establish him as our leader and see how they respond to him. We were able to put him in all the situations we needed to before our first game. Hopefully, it's earlier rather later, but the number one thing we need to do is make sure we're right."

Frazier and Wallace return after throwing for a combined 1,473 yards but only six touchdowns in 10 combined starts last season. With Marshall and Johnson both blessed with great athleticism and the ability to make plays, the competition is one that will be heated from the first day moving forward. Malzahn said because of that it's going to be important to let guys know where they stand and as often as possible.

"As a coach you try to be as honest as you can with your quarterbacks," Malzahn said. "You would like to give them updates whether that's daily updates or bi-weekly or weekly updates. We'll be very up front with our guys. Hopefully, somebody will establish themselves as the leader very early. As a coach you have to structure your practices a little bit different than you normally would if you have a starter."

Something that Malzahn said he wants to avoid is making the quarterbacks live during fall practices and scrimmages. It's not a recommended practice in football nowadays with the likelihood of injury increased with each hit, but Malzahn said if someone doesn't take things over at the position it may come to that this fall.

"I haven't gotten that far yet," Malzahn said. "We'll just have to see. Ideally if someone emerges and is the guy then we won't have to do that, but I have had times where we've had to do that. I would rather not, but I'm not ruling that out."

Once the decision is made on a quarterback the next job will be to find a reliable receiver or two for the passing game. When Todd took over in 2009 it was Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery that quickly took over those roles. Malzahn said for this team it's time to find the next go-to receivers for the Tigers.

"It's very important," Malzahn said. "We've got to have somebody to step up and be a go-to guy and want the ball on third down and want the ball when the game is on the line. This spring we tried to put them in as many situations as we can. At times all the guys responded, but somebody has got to emerge. I know Coach (Dameyune) Craig has really stressed that to his players."

Auburn will open fall practice on Aug. 2 with the season opener against Washington State on Aug. 31 at 6 p.m. on ESPNU.

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