Editor's Note: These lists feature our thoughts on the most important players for Auburn heading into the 2016 football season. We are counting down 16 key Tigers for the offense and 16 more for the defense as Coach Gus Malzahn's team prepares to face Clemson in the season opener.
Auburn, Ala.--The last player on our rundown of the 2016 Auburn Tigers is actually a group of players, the quarterbacks. There is no position on any team that is as important as the quarterback and last season showed just how important it is in Gus Malzahn’s system.
With Jeremy Johnson and Sean White returning after starting games last season and junior college transfer John Franklin joining the mix in the spring, Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee have a three-man race heading into preseason practices with true freshman Woody Barrett a player who could make things interesting down the road, but playing a true freshman at the position this fall is unlikely.
The other scholarship quarterback, redshirt freshman Tyler Queen, tried to make a push for the starting job in spring practice, but suffered a shoulder injury that put him behind the other QBs.
White bounced back from knee and foot injuries to end last year as the starter. Coming off a solid spring he is going to be tough to beat, but Franklin’s athletic ability and burning desire to be successful this year are qualities also have to be considered. There is no question that Franklin struggled throwing the ball in the spring while trying to learn the offense, but after a full summer of working hard to improve he could make things very interesting with a strong start to his camp.
The wildcard is Johnson because there is no questioning his talent. Last year's bowl win over Memphis showed a side of Johnson we haven't seen before at Auburn with his physical running style showing up. It took him until his senior season at Carver High to add running to his repertoire and it made a big difference for him. If he becomes a confident runner then it would open up the passing game, making him a true dual-threat guy.
Sean White is a redshirt sophomore.
Best Case Scenario: The best news for Auburn would be for someone to take control of the job early in the preseason in order to get as many reps as possible with the first team before the Sept. 3 opener against Clemson. With a large group of wide receivers fighting to get into the rotation, the quicker someone wins the job the better so he can build chemistry with the wideouts.
Worst Case Scenario: If Auburn’s struggles continue at the position this season it’s bad news for the Tigers. The worst thing would be to have to keep shuffling guys to find the right one for the job. Auburn needs someone to step up and take charge early, but if that doesn’t happen uncertainty at the position is never a good thing.
Quote: “(I) still feel the same way, earlier better than later,” Malzahn said of when he wants to name a starter. “I do think all three are guys who can run our offense. We have to figure out who the main guy is.
“We have a good plan in fall camp to escalate that. I don’t have preconceived notion who will be the starter. All three are capable of running the offense. That’s the positive.”