Auburn, Ala.--Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee headed into spring training with a goal of improvement for all of his quarterbacks during each of Auburn's 15 spring practices. With 13 of those in the books heading into Saturday’s A-Day game, Lashlee said he feels like Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and John Franklin have all gotten better as they continue to battle for the starting job.
“I would like to think we’re in much better shape,” Lashlee said. “Sean is healthy (and) he wasn’t healthy after the fourth quarter of the Arkansas game. It was a bad, nagging injury. That makes him a different person because he’s not a bad athlete. Everybody remembers him pulling the ball and running 40 yards against Mississippi State, extending the plays like he did against Kentucky.
“I think that has helped his confidence," said Lashlee, who is also Auburn's quarterback coach. "Obviously, with Jeremy I’ve been impressed with the way he’s handled everything. To come back and earn his teammates' trust and everything has been really impressive. I feel like those two guys are in a much better place and have really improved and I’ve liked the way John has picked up things initially. At the end of the day, it won’t really show until we play somebody.”
A talented athlete and one of the fastest players on the team, Franklin was the biggest unknown heading into spring practice. Putting him through more live reps than any other quarterback, Lashlee said the coaches ahve got a much better idea about Franklin’s make-up as they get ready for Saturday. That will be an important day for Franklin to see how he responds in front of a crowd for the first time.
John Franklin joined the team in January after transferring from East Mississippi Community College.
“You always want to know,when there’s 40-, 50-, 60-, 70,000, whatever’s going to be there, how guys react in the most game-like situation we’re going to get to before we play, with the exception of the live part,” Lashlee said. “Are they the same guy? Do their eyes get really big and wide? Are they the same guy that they are all the time?
“How are you going to do playing from the pocket all the time because guys that have ability to make plays with their feet, that’s sometimes things you need to work on, play from the pocket first and then use your instincts when you need to. That’s something we’ve been stressing obviously in practice. Most days he’s not live so how he’ll handle that, that’ll be good for us to see.”
The veteran of the bunch, Johnson is a fourth-year senior who is back following an up and mostly down 2015 season that saw him struggle early in the year before being replaced by White. Putting in a lot of work in the offseason, Johnson’s game has been much sharper this spring said Lashlee.
“One of the things I think Jeremy has done a good job of improving is playing in the pocket with stuff around him,” Lashlee said. “When a guard gets knocked back in your face, you get a free run, you're standing and delivering the ball and taking a hit. That's tough to do. It's tough to simulate, too, when you're not live. Because if you stand back there and you know you have an orange jersey on and no one is going to hit me you play different than if you know it's the real deal.
“That's hard to simulate, hard to do. It's part of the job description of playing quarterback. I feel like he's grown up a lot in that area and he can play from the pocket when things aren't perfect and still deliver to the right guy. That's what we've worked on the most.”
Finally healthy again after injuries hampered his production the second half of last season, White has had a strong spring, according to Lashlee. He said he has been particularly impressed by his toughness and ability to make plays.
Sean White is shown in action during last season's road win vs. Kentucky.
“You start with a guy like Sean, being healthy was big,” Lashlee said. “They all bring something different to the table. And Sean, obviously, brings his toughness and his grit. He's a guy that sees the field and makes good decisions. He's a guy who is going to know where to go with the football. I know his teammates believe in him from that standpoint. He's proven that in games.”
Auburn's other scholarship QB, redshirt freshman Tyler Queen, hurt his shoulder in last Saturday's scrimmage and is expected to miss the A-Day Game as well as the final practice of the spring scheduled for next week.
As for where the quarterbacks stand at the moment, Lashlee said that’s still to be determined as he anticipates rotating all three healthy guys between the two teams on Saturday. With plenty of time left before Auburn faces Clemson in the season opener Lashlee said there’s no need to rush into a decision.
“I have in my mind where I'd be right now if we played tomorrow,” Lashlee said. “We don't play until Sept. 3 so I don't have to worry about that right now.”