JOHN ZENOR,AP Sports Writer
HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s most pressing goal for preseason camp is settling on a quarterback to run his turbo-charged offense.
That’s no surprise to anybody who watched the Tigers struggle mightily at that position and others last season, or who has seen what Malzahn’s offense can do with the likes of Cam Newton running the show.
“There’s no doubt that’s the No. 1 priority and probably what gives me the most stress right now,” Malzahn said Wednesday at Southeastern Conference media days. “But we’ve got a lot of questions that need to be answered, not just the quarterback. But that is the most important one. That’s the unique thing about this season going in with our coaches. That’s why it’s harder to really predict anything moving forward until we evaluate our guys and get some questions answered.”
Auburn has four contenders at quarterback: Returnees and past starters Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace, along with junior college transfer Nick Marshall and freshman Jeremy Johnson.
It was just one area where the Tigers struggled during a 3-9 season that led to the firing of Gene Chizik and Malzahn’s hiring. They ranked last in the SEC in total offense, averaging 305 yards a game and produced a league-low eight touchdown passes against 15 interceptions.
Malzahn praised the potential of both newcomers at quarterback.
“I started recruiting Jeremy Johnson in the eighth or ninth grade,” he said. “I know a lot about him. NFL-type arm. Very good athlete. Very good basketball player, too. The future’s bright for him. It’s just a matter of how quick he can pick everything up.”
Malzahn recruited Marshall — whose college career started as a Georgia defensive back — at Arkansas State last year.
“He’ll have a chance,” the coach said. “He’s unbelievably talented. He has a bigtime arm. He’s like Jeremy. How quick can he pick up the offense? What we ask our quarterback to do from the sideline, it’s tough pre-snap as far as communication, everything we ask them to do.
“But we’ll give him and Jeremy a fair chance and see what happens.”
Malzahn and Newton helped lead Auburn to the 2010 national championship before the decline began. Now, his theme has been “a new day” since arriving in Auburn.
“When I first got here, we had to do some Dr. Phil-ing,” Malzahn said. “There were some mental scars. I feel good about our team. They put it in their rearview mirror and they’re looking in the future.”