Freshman QB Malik Willis making ‘really big jump’ in midst of Stidham-White competition

AUBURN, Ala. — The competition Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn has emphasized during fall camp in the Auburn Athletics Complex is bringing out the best in everyone.

That’s especially true for freshman quarterback Malik Willis, who has shined outside the constant spotlight on Jarrett Stidham and Sean White while benefiting from their guidance.

“I think Malik has made a really big jump,” said offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, “just from the mental side of learning the offense, more about communication with the o-line and receivers.”

Auburn’s first few practices were split with upperclassmen taking the lead early in practices. Coaches then shifted their attention to newcomers. Willis typically watches Stidham and White go through drills and get reps before taking center stage later on.

RELATED: New year, ‘different vibe’ for Auburn football under offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey

“I think it’s huge, especially at quarterback because he gets a chance to see Sean and Jarrett run the same play and he runs it later,” Lindsey said. “If he’s really dialed in and paying attention like he should be then he ought to do as good or better than they did. At least he’s seen the looks before.”

While Malzahn has seen the Nick Marshall-esque athlete do “some good things,” Lindsey has spent “more quality time” with the 6-foot-1, 202-pound quarterback. So have Stidham and White Lindsey saw the former Baylor quarterback and Auburn’s 2016 starter bond with Willis in the quarterback room this spring, and that’s only continued through the summer months.

“I like the progress he’s made,” Lindsey said. “You can tell he’s studied in the offseason. He’s put some time in meetings in in the film room. I know he got with Sean and Jarrett and they kind of met together some because those two guys have played.”

MORE: Auburn freshman WR Noah Igbinoghene standing out early in Auburn football fall camp 

Willis was good in Auburn’s A-Day spring game, completing 11 of 18 passes for 157 yards. That wasn’t a flash of good luck, it’s what the Tigers have seen since he arrived on campus in January.

Does that mean Willis could see time as a true freshman this season? Malzahn admitted at SEC Media Days he was “not ready to say that yet.” Still, the coach praised Willis’ talent and future.

The ensuing quarterback competition also may boost Willis’ morale. Junior Chandler Cox says whenever he encourages Stidham and White, he never forgets to pump up the freshman, telling him to “be that guy.”

If he gets the chance this season, he’ll be be one of the best prepared underclassmen in the SEC.