StatTiger Column: Johnson Ready for QB Role

Stuart Carter writes about Jeremy Johnson, Auburn's new starting quarterback, in his StatTiger column.

Jeremy Johnson is shown in the 2015 A-Day Game.

Jeremy Johnson will be the most publicized player on 2015 Auburn football roster and one of the most publicized in the Southeastern Conference. Expectations are high for the Auburn offense, led by the quarterback who has already been mentioned in the preseason Heisman discussions.

At 6-5, 240 pounds Johnson is the prototypical NFL quarterback and he has grown mentally over the past two seasons under guidance of coaches Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee.

From 1990-1999 Auburn compiled a pass efficiency rating of 120.9. From 2000-2008 Auburn’s pass efficiency rating improved to 130.7. During the five seasons under Malzahn, Auburn’s pass-efficiency rating has been 150.9. Except for 2011, Malzahn's quarterbacks have excelled in his offense and Johnson is expected to do the same.

As an Auburn Tiger, Johnson has appeared in 13 games while making two starts. He has compiled a pass rating of 198.4 coming into the 2015 season.

He replaces two-year starter Nick Marshall, who finished his college career as the third-highest rated passer in school history behind Jason Campbell and Cam Newton.

Marshall was an incredible athlete, but not a polished passer when he arrived at Auburn. He finished his career with a pass efficiency rating of 145.6. Johnson is a far more developed quarterback than Marshall at this point of his career and should exceed Marshall’s pass rating numbers.

Malzahn commended Johnson after his start against the Arkansas Razorbacks last season. “He was phenomenal--phenomenal,” Auburn’s head coach said. "Our line did a good job of giving him some time, too. He had progressions, he had reads, he knew his protections, he knew his hot (routes). He’s a cool customer.”

Jeremy Johnson looks for a receiver in Auburn's 2014 season-opening victory vs. Arkansas.

Johnson as an Auburn Tiger has been highly efficient during the two most critical passing downs. During his freshman season he produced a passer rating of 220.6 on first down and 228.1 on third down. During his sophomore season he had a rating of 175.8 on first down and 269.3 on third down.

Because he has only two career starts there are valid reasons to temper expectations for the rising junior. Of his 78 career pass attempts at the collegiate level, Johnson has attempted only seven of them while Auburn trailed on the scoreboard.

Despite his lack of starting experience Johnson was quickly named the No. 1 quarterback for 2015 immediately after spring practice was concluded. He went 14 of 22 for 252 yards and two touchdowns during the 2015 A-Day game.

After being named the starter, Johnson said he can focus on his summer task of becoming a strong leader, something Malzahn and Lashlee have told him they expect from their starting QB. “I feel like it’s my team,” Johnson said. “I'm just trying to become the best leader I can become.”

Malzahn and Offensive Coordinator Lashlee will be able to surround Johnson with a strong supporting cast. Although Cameron Artis-Payne is gone Auburn has a solid trio of running backs based on their performances in spring training. Under Malzahn's direction Auburn has averaged 254 yards rushing per game at 5.5 yards per attempt.

The offensive line should be solid even with the departure of center Reese Dismukes, an All-American and four-year starter.

The receiving corps will be led by seniors Duke Williams, Ricardo Louis and Melvin Ray. Marcus Davis and Myron Burton are expected to provide quality depth along with juco transfer Jason Smith.

Fullbacks Kamryn Pettway and Chandler Cox will make great targets out of the backfield.

During the past two seasons Auburn has thrown the ball only 30 percent of the time on first down. Look for more passing on first down with Johnson directing the offense. Marshall threw the football just 29 percent of the time on first down while 40 percent of Johnson’s pass attempts have come on first down.

“I'm just really focused on getting better in the off-season and also being a leader for the team,” Johnson said. “The goals (individual) are going to come if they come, but as long as the team is winning I'm happy.”

Sitting behind Marshall the past two seasons has opened Johnson’s eyes to the importance of being the leader of the team and handling himself with composure, no matter the situation. Malzahn and Lashlee have placed a high priority on Johnson becoming the face of the program and Johnson has been receptive to his new role.

Being a star player in high school made it a challenge for Johnson to sit the bench for much of the past two seasons. Johnson admitted it was a humbling experience, but a positive one, which has helped in his maturity level. He had to become team oriented as a role player, which made him appreciate the opportunity to play.

As long as he remains healthy, Johnson will likely compile lofty numbers because of his ability to stretch the field with a strong arm and his ability to be quick and precise on the shorter routes. For Auburn to win a championship, the big quarterback will have to be a role model and leader to inspire his teammates to obtain the most of their abilities.

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