AUBURN, Ala. — In 2013, Gus Malzahn said he knew Nick Marshall was the right quarterback to start for Auburn football after seeing him “go live” in just one series.
The full-contact work made it clear the former Georgia defensive back and JUCO quarterback would lead the Tigers that fall.
It was the right decision for the then-first-year Auburn coach. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to do it again four years later.
PRACTICE REPORT: Position changes, first look at depth charts highlight Day 1
Malzahn said Monday evening after Auburn football’s first practice of its 2017 fall camp it was “safe to say” quarterbacks Jarrett Stidham and Sean White won’t go live.
In 2013, Auburn’s top two competitors for the starting job were Marshall — who hadn’t played quarterback at the major college level — and true freshman Jeremy Johnson. This time around, Malzahn said he has two quarterbacks with starting experience, so he doesn’t have to see them get hit in fall camp.
“Things are completely different now,” Malzahn said. “There’s a lot more information, I feel like we have specifically, with our two older guys. Not just going through spring, but even when they played games.”
Stidham started several games as a true freshman at Baylor in 2015 before deciding to transfer from the program. He sat out the entire 2016 season at a junior college in Waco, Texas, to preserve his eligibility, and he returned to action earlier this year in Auburn’s spring practices.
White started 10 games at quarterback for Auburn in 2016, finishing second in the SEC in completion percentage (63.9 percent) and throwing for 1,679 yards. The junior from Florida struggled with deep-ball accuracy, though, before several injuries limited his impact during Auburn’s late-season slide.
Stidham is the heavy favorite to ultimately win the starting job. He was the first quarterback on the field in drills Monday, with White rotating behind him.
Malzahn will keep that going for the early parts of fall camp. And while he won’t let the two quarterbacks get tackled, he said that won’t limit his evaluation of Stidham and White.
“You put them in as many situations as you can,” Malzahn said. “Even if it’s not live, you can really evaluate. The more team reps, 11-on-11, that’s really when you can really tell. We’ll be able to properly evaluate them without them being live, I feel like.”
Malzahn said first-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chip Lindsey will continue to rotate the two quarterbacks through situational drills and the all-important scrimmages later in August.
“The first two days are very basic then you start getting into Day 3 and 4, you start going third down, some red zone, some real specifics and try to put them in as many situations as you can,” Malzahn said. “Of course, scrimmages are big, too, and I’ve said that before. Chip’s got a good plan. Both the guys are competing at a high level.”
Even though Stidham and White won’t go full-contact like the rest of their teammates in scrimmages, Malzahn said he’s looking for one characteristic to determine who wins the battle.
“Who gives you the best chance of winning?” Malzahn said. “I mean, I think that’s really the simplest. There’s a lot of things that go with that … It’s a good competition, and there’s nothing better than competition. It just brings out the best in everybody. That’s a really good thing right now.”