For the first time since he hired his initial Auburn football staff in 2013, Gus Malzahn has a new figure in charge of his offense: former Arizona State offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey.
Lindsey was an offensive analyst on that first Malzahn staff four years ago, so he has an idea on how things go on the Plains. But because Lindsey is not too familiar with the talent he’s inheriting, Malzahn has more reason to open competition for playing time across the board this spring.
“I think you do that with every position, every year,” Malzahn told reporters at Senior Bowl practices on Wednesday, per SEC Country’s Andrew Astleford. “Competition brings out the best in everybody.”
Whoever Malzahn hired to replace Rhett Lashlee knew he would step into at least one major position battle.
Auburn signed former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham out of junior college last month. Stidham enters an open competition at quarterback with returning starter Sean White, rising senior John Franklin III, redshirt freshman Woody Barrett, sophomore Tyler Queen and true freshman Malik Willis.
White broke his forearm earlier this month at the Sugar Bowl. Malzahn said Wednesday he hopes the rising junior will be able to “throw some” during spring practices.
Of all the players on Auburn’s offensive roster, Lindsey might be most familiar with the signal callers.
“I was here when we recruited Sean, obviously, and I was recruiting Jarrett pretty heavy in the fall myself,” Lindsey said last Saturday. “(There is) some familiarity with those guys. Obviously, not on a day-to-day basis, but I’m looking forward to getting to know really all four of those guys that are here now. This spring is going to be fun.”
Besides the quarterback battle, Auburn must replace two starters on the offensive line. But Alex Kozan’s left guard spot and Robert Leff’s right tackle spot might not be the only ones in question.
Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand emphasizes versatility up front, so players who might have played tackle in 2016 could be guards in 2017 or vice versa. Starting right guard Braden Smith has experience at right tackle. Starting left tackle Darius James played guard at Texas before transferring to Auburn.
Open competition will be key at wide receiver as well. The Tigers lost statistical leader Tony Stevens to graduation this offseason. And though 7 of Auburn’s top 9 receivers return in 2017, no one appears to be locked into the starting lineup.
Widespread competition during spring practices, which begin in late February, will be highly beneficial for Lindsey. He’ll get to learn more about a roster that played two time zones ahead of him on Saturdays last fall.
“We played at such a different time there on the West Coast, so I didn’t get to see a lot,” Lindsey said. “But I’m familiar with some of them just being from (Alabama) and knowing where a lot of these guys came from. I’m excited about what we have coming back, for sure.”
Auburn could return as many as 9 regular starters on offense in 2017, and most of its reserve talent is intact.
But Malzahn wants his players to compete everywhere for playing time during preseason camp as he hands the reins of the offense to his newest hire.
“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back, and we expect them to be ready to compete,” Malzahn said. “We think we’ve got some depth, which is always good. Competition brings out the best in the depth.”