AUBURN, Ala. – It has been a week since Auburn began spring practice, and we’ve already seen plenty of activity in the highly contested quarterback competition.
John Franklin III looks like he’s on the move to wide receiver. Woody Barrett has turned heads and might be rising up the depth chart. And last year’s starter Sean White resumed throwing activities at practice Tuesday for the first time since he broke his arm in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
The one constant to this point? Jarrett Stidham.
At practice Tuesday when Auburn ran tempo, it was Stidham who trotted out there with the first-team offense. He’s still learning the offense – he has been on campus for only a couple of months – but he looks comfortable as the team’s quarterback. He was yelling the plays out to his teammates as they ran up to the line of scrimmage. He was joking around with some of them during the stretching portion of practice. He’s quickly becoming a leader for the Tigers.
“For him to be here such a short time, he's getting along great with the team,” Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson said. “The thing that stands out to me is that I think he really wants to become a team leader. Obviously that comes with time when you’ve got guys who have been in the program for years – it takes time to really get that role – but he's striving for it, and it shows on the field.”
Added tight end Jalen Harris, “I have noticed that he’s always one of the main ones telling everyone ‘Let’s get it started today,' 'Start off fast,’ that type of thing. He’s a natural leader.”
It’s easy to forget that Stidham didn’t play football at all last year. Outside of a couple of bowl practices in December, this spring has been the first organized football he has participated in since the 2015 season when he was still a freshman at Baylor.
Stidham also has had to deal with high expectations since the moment he signed with Auburn. Most assume it will be only a matter of time before he’s named the starting quarterback, and fans hope he can be the guy to beat Georgia and Alabama and make the Tigers a threat for the College Football Playoff. No pressure, right?
Stidham understands all that. He wants the same thing.
“He’s really hard on himself,” first-year Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. “He’s probably as critical as anybody I’ve been around. When we go back to watch tape and I grade the film, he’s a guy who is pretty hard on himself, which is good and bad. You don’t want him to overdo it, but he holds himself accountable, which I think is very good.
“He has played enough where he’s confident but not arrogant. He knows he has a lot to learn. I’m really impressed with how he’s preparing each day.”
Don’t expect Auburn to name Stidham the starting quarterback anytime soon, though. Lindsey admitted Tuesday that Stidham, Barrett and freshman Malik Willis have received the bulk of the reps this spring, but part of that is because White hasn’t been healthy.
Regardless, there are still five quarterbacks – six if you still count Franklin – competing for one spot. There’s a strong possibility a decision won't be made until fall camp.
“I think we’ll know when we know,” Lindsey said. “I’m not ready after four practices to say this guy is this or that. I think it’s a continued evaluation throughout spring ball. We don’t play until September, and I think our guys – we do a great job of practicing fast and getting a lot of reps, so I think we’ll kind of just know when we know.”
Through the first week, it’s clear Stidham is saying and doing all of the right things. Maybe he’ll be the savior for Auburn football. For now, though, he’s focused on learning the offense, becoming a leader for his new teammates, and winning the starting job. The rest will come.