Following two scrimmages and 12 total practices, juco transfer Nick Marshall and freshman Jeremy Johnson are now battling to win the No. 1 spot this week in practice. While Malzahn didn't rule out the possibility of Jonathan Wallace, it is at the most a three-man race thanks to a position move on Monday.
Former starter and Malzahn recruit Kiehl Frazier was moved to defense and lined up on the defensive side of the ball for the first time since he was in high school. Frazier played some safety on a part-time basis at Shiloh Christian School in Springdale, Ark., but was ranked as one of the top quarterback prospects in the country and got most of his attention from colleges as an offensive player.
A former defensive back himself at Georgia two seasons ago, Marshall transferred to Garden City Community College in Kansas last season to restart his college career quarterback at quarterback, the position he shined at as a high school star in Georgia where he set a state record for touchdown passes with 102. In his only season in junior college Marshall passed for 3,142 yards and 18 touchdowns to earn Jayhawk Conference Player of the Year honors.
Johnson throws a pass in Auburn's first preseason scrimmage. The Tigers will have their third scrimmage on Tuesday.
Alabama's Mr. Football in 2012 after passing for 3,193 yards and 31 touchdowns and adding 705 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, Johnson has been impressive thus far in preseason camp. Showing an accurate arm and the ability to throw the deep ball as well, Johnson has put himself in position for playing time this season.
Commenting on what he has seen from Johnson and Marshall to give them the opportunity to win the starting spot, Malzahn said, "We have seen them both improve each practice and both of them have extremely live arms.
"They both can run and both of them are athletic," the coach added. "It is just a matter of how quick they can get acclimated and we are still looking for a couple of other situations to see how they react and how their teammates react."
Malzahn, who coached true freshman QB Mitch Mustain when he was working as offensive coordinator at the University of Arkansas, has experience in going with a rookie quarterback in the SEC. That gives him confidence that Johnson could get the call if he wins the job outright.
"I said from day one whoever gives us the best chance of winning, and being successful, will be our quarterback, the coach noted. "Obviously it is tough for a true freshman in this league, but if he is the best, if we believe he gives us the best chance of winning, he will be our quarterback so he has got a chance."
Jeremy Johnson throws a pass in practice.
Malzahn said the plan is to divide the first team reps between Johnson and Marshall throughout the week. "It will be close to 50-50," he said. "We are going to try to put those two guys with our main group as much as we can this week to see how they respond, and really, to see how their teammates respond to them.
"We want to see who can move the football, who can protect the football and do the things that it takes to be successful and to win."
Malzahn didn't give a timetable for naming the starting quarterback, but said, "Obviously we would like to name something quicker...sooner rather than later. That is just the plan for this week. That is not to say we are going to name someone this week. That would be great if we did, but that is no guarantee."
Nick Marshall is shown at Auburn's Fan Day that was held on Sunday.
The odd-man out appears to be sophomore Jonathan Wallace. Starting the final four games of the 2012 season and throwing for 720 yards and four touchdowns with four interceptions, Wallace set an Auburn freshman record with a 139.60 passing efficiency mark last year.
Commenting on Wallace, who played last season as a true freshman, Malzahn said, "We know exactly what we have with Jonathan and we have a lot of respect for Jonathan."
Auburn will continue preparation for the season opener on Aug. 31 against Washington State with two practices on Tuesday, including the third scrimmage of the preseason in the morning.