AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football’s underclassmen took center stage during the Tigers’ first couple of bowl practices.
As is normally the case, Gus Malzahn and his coaching staff carved out time for younger players to scrimmage. It was a chance for student-athletes to impress their coaches and teammates, and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey says “those guys are rising to the challenge.”
“And what’s kind of neat, too, is seeing those guys progress all the way from fall camp to now – basically six months,” Lindsey said. “It’s kind of fun to see those guys grow up, and I think we’ve got guys that are improving.”
Even in just a couple of days, freshman quarterback Malik Willis continues to prove he’s developing into the player everyone expects. There’s no question, especially after handling his first season at Auburn so well, that one day Willis will be the Tigers’ leader. Lindsey already can tell.
“Just the way he handles himself,” Lindsey said. “I think he’s becoming more and more comfortable, obviously, with the offense. I think he’s very comfortable with that now.”
Willis completed 6 of 7 passes (45 yards) and totaled 221 yards on 16 rushing attempts during his first year. He added 2 touchdowns — one through the air and one on the ground.
For the Atlanta native, the football part of things came easy. Now it’s Lindsey’s job to groom Willis to lead an offense through the SEC West.
Lindsey isn’t the only person helping Willis along, either. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham shined for most of 2017 and led Auburn to wins over top-ranked Georgia and Alabama. Stidham still made time to form a close relationship with Willis.
“He’s done a really nice job with Malik for really the whole year as far as trying to teach him how to prepare and just being an example, I think,” Lindsey said.
Willis has a way to go before he shows that the Nick Marshall comparisons he’s received are completely valid, but he seems to be on the right path.
“Things that we want to coach with him now are just carrying himself like a quarterback all the time – good, bad or indifferent on the field, being able to have that really good body language, because you’re the leader of the team when you’re the quarterback,” Lindsey said. “He’s doing a really nice job of taking coaching, trying to do that. He’s learned how to prepare as the season’s gone along. He’s got a really bright future.”