AUBURN, Ala. — For Gus Malzahn, a retooled offense with Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham isn’t the most important aspect of Auburn football’s quarterback position for 2017.
It’s not the progress and determination of returning starter Sean White, either, nor the potential of true freshman Malik Willis.
Instead, it’s something that was missing last season.
“First of all, I’d just like to say that we have quality depth at the quarterback position,” Malzahn said to open a pre-Media Days session with local media. “I think that’s a big thing. That’s been our Achilles heel, really, these last two years.”
Since Nick Marshall left Auburn in 2014, the Tigers have used multiple starting quarterbacks. In 2015, that was due to a combination of lackluster play and late-season injuries. In 2016, it was due to injury.
Stidham hasn’t played in a competitive game since 2015, and that season ended with an injury. That makes White an important asset for the Tigers in 2017, even if he stays on the sidelines all season.
“I’m very excited about Sean White,” Malzahn said of the junior. “When Sean White’s healthy, he plays at extremely high level. Last year when we got on that roll, that six-game win streak, he was leading the league in completions and quarterback efficiency.”
When White went down with injury late last season, the Tigers couldn’t fully rely on backups Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III. Malzahn enters the fall confident that he fixed that issue this offseason with Stidham and Willis.
“Just from a head coach’s standpoint, the biggest comfort I have right now is that quality depth aspect going into the season,” Malzahn said. “That was our Achilles heel the last two years. Everybody knows that. But we’ve got that solved.”
That’s why at SEC Media Days, Malzahn followed talk of Stidham with praise for White and Willis. He might have to count on them this season, and there’s still a quarterback battle to finish before the start of the season.
“A lot of people think very highly of [Stidham],” Malzahn said. “Internally, we’ve got a lot of guys who have a lot of respect for Sean. He’s earned that. … Our team wants to win. Like I said, our team does know that we have quality depth at that position. I think that gives everybody a comfort — not just players, but the coaches.”
Stidham and White enter Auburn’s fall camp next week in contention for the starting job. New offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chip Lindsey will get to evaluate both quarterbacks fully for the first time, since White was limited in the spring.
While Malzahn wants to name his starter earlier than usual, he wants anyone who will listen to know he values White just as much as Stidham at this point in the process.
“We can’t control the outside,” Malzahn said. “We can’t control what people think around the country. All we can control is what’s internally. I know our team respects Sean. He’s earned that. They respect Jarrett. He’s done a very good job from a leadership standpoint and a work-ethic standpoint. It’s the comfort you have that we have two guys that we feel really, really good about.”