Newcomers Battling to Be No. 1 Quarterback

Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall are the finalists to be Auburn's starting quarterback and Kiehl Frazier is changing positions and making a move to defense.

Auburn, Ala.--It was a big news day on Monday involving the quarterbacks for Gus Malzahn's Auburn football team.

Auburn's head coach said after the two-hour practice that juco transfer Nick Marshall and freshman Jeremy Johnson will be competing for the No. 1 spot on the quarterback depth chart this week.

Nick Marshall was a standout performer last season at Garden City Community College in Kansas.

Junior Kiehl Frazier, who began the 2012 season as the starting quarterback before losing his No. 1 status, has been moved to safety. Frazier said after Monday's practice the move is something he began thinking about a couple weeks before the start of preseason drills.

Sophomore Jonathan Wallace, who finished the 2012 season as the No. 1 quarterback, is taking a backseat to the newcomers for the time being. However, Malzahn didn't rule out that Wallace could win the starting QB job, but for now the newcomers will get a chance to prove they deserve to be the starter.

Malzahn said he and offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Rhett Lashlee met with all four quarterbacks on Sunday. "We told them all these two new guys we feel like have earned the right to compete for the job and they are going to get the majority of the reps with the ones this week.

"That is not to say that Jonathan Wallace will not be the starter come day one, but we are going to give those two new guys a real chance to compete for the job and show what they can do," Malzahn added.

Malzahn had praise for Frazier's attitude. "As we were talking to Kiehl and telling him the plan, he brought up the idea that ‘Coach, I want to help the team any way I can.'

"I am very proud of Kiehl Frazier," Malzahn added. "I just want to say this. He is a winner, he is a class act, he is a team-first guy.

"I think back when he was a freshman here. We weren't very talented around him. He was tough. He did a lot of dirty work and helped us win eight games. Last year he was put in a tough situation running an offense he wasn't recruited to, but I am very happy for him. He is going to make our team better."

On the injury front 2012 starting safety Demetruce McNeal returned to practice for the first time since spring drills. He has been out with an infection following a procedure to have his tonsils removed. McNeal is the leading returning tackler for the Tigers.

Justin Garrett, who was named the MVP of the spring football game for the defense, was injured in Saturday's scrimmage, but Malzahn said on Monday the issue is not a serious one and expects the junior "star" rover to be back on the practice field soon. Another key defender, senior Dee Ford, has missed practice time after suffering a knee injury in the scrimmage.

True freshman wide receiver Tony Stevens, who missed the Saturday's scrimmage with a hamstring problem, returned to practice on Monday.

Auburn's next practice on Tuesday will feature the third scrimmage in a one week period to give the coaches further information on picking a quarterback and other spots on the depth chart. Malzahn said that Marshall and Johnson will split the QB reps evenly. The Tigers are also expected to have a second practice on Tuesday.

Kiehl Frazier is shown at Auburn's 2013 spring football game.

Frazier, a high school All-American QB from Springdale, Ark., noted that he played safety in high school and some colleges recruited him to play that position for their teams. The junior said he wants to stay at Auburn to finish his college playing days and is looking forward to the challenge of fitting in on the defensive unit, noting his teammates on that side of the ball welcomed him at Monday's practice.

Malzahn, who took over as head coach of the Tigers following the 2012 season, said he thought his team had a "really solid" practice after challenging the players to push through the grind of preseason camp.

"We are about at the midway point through the fall camp," he said. "Most teams are going have a tough day, feel sorry for themselves. I was real proud of the way the guys responded and I feel like we got better today."

Commenting on his decision to move to defense, Frazier said, "I talked to my high school coach. I talked to my dad a little bit. I talked to Kodi (AU graduate assistant coach Kodi Burns) a little bit. Even Rhett--I talked to him a little bit before it happened. I know that no matter what happens, I know the coaches really have our backs and they love us and they want what's best for us so I talked with them a a little bit about it."

Burns made the move to wide receiver as a third-year junior and developed into a key player on the 2010 national championship team. Burns even caught at touchdown pass in the BCS title game.

Asked what Burns told him, Frazier said, "Just make the best out of any situation. Do what you want to do. Football isn't forever-- what I'm doing right now is what I'm getting my education in. It's something I feel like I can do well in. Whatever I do, do it to the fullest."

Commenting on what he is looking for in picking the No. 1 quarterback, Malzahn said, "It is everything. It is not just one thing when you are evaluating a quarterback.

"It is who can get the ball in the end zone, who can protect the football, who is coachable, who has command over the offense and who can handle the pressure...and we are straining them right now. We are trying to figure out what is in them and gather all of the information we can."

Malzahn said that all of the quarterbacks, including Frazier, have done good things in preseason, but noted it was time to narrow the focus as the Tigers prepare for their August 31st season opener.

"It was just to a point where we were intrigued enough, and really felt they deserved an opportunity, to try to win the job. The only way you can do that, when they don't go through spring, is to give them more opportunities to show."

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