SEC: Sean White

Jeremy JohnsonMike Zarrilli/Getty ImagesJeremy Johnson is focused on becoming Auburn's starting quarterback.

AUBURN, Ala. -- Jeremy Johnson has waited his turn. The Auburn quarterback could’ve started for a number of SEC teams last season, but he spent the majority of his time on the sideline, clipboard in hand, and watched as Nick Marshall gashed opposing defenses.

It didn’t matter that he went 12-of-16 for 243 yards and two touchdowns against Arkansas when Marshall was suspended for the first half of the season opener. After halftime, Marshall reclaimed his spot and never looked back. He started all 12 remaining games while Johnson attempted just 21 passes the rest of the season.

It was less than an ideal situation for Johnson, a former ESPN 300 recruit who was eager to showcase his own abilities.

“It was tough, but I look at it as a humbling experience and it made me grow and mature over the past two years,” Johnson said. “I supported Nick and I enjoyed watching him play every snap here. God has a plan for everybody and that was his plan -- for me to sit out. Now that my time is here, I’m looking to win the starting job and be the man.”

Marshall has since moved on to bigger and better things. He’s hoping to get drafted. But his departure doesn’t mean the coaches are just going to hand Johnson the starting job this season. He still has to earn it.

“This is his third go-around, his third year with us, so the expectations for him are extremely high,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn told reporters Tuesday.

Through the first week of spring practice, Johnson is splitting first-team reps with redshirt freshman Sean White. Though most assume Johnson will win the job, Malzahn and the coaches have been reluctant to officially name him the starter. They’re giving White every opportunity to compete this spring.

However, it was telling when the staff made Johnson available to the media after the first practice. It was clear that they want him to be the face of this team and he’s already started to embrace that role.

“My specific goal this spring is to win the starting job first and then become a leader and build team chemistry,” Johnson said. “This is a new team, new players, new coaching staff. I'm looking forward to bringing everybody in to where if I say we're going to move right, the whole team moves right. That's the type of leader I'm trying to become for this team."

“Being a leader is not just being the quarterback,” said offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. “You’ve got to earn your teammates’ respect. They’ve got to see you put in the work and they’ve got to see you working hard, sacrificing and doing all the things that you’re wanting them to do.

“He’s been watching a lot more film, studying hard. He’s really committed right now to trying to be as good as he can be, and as good as he can be is pretty good.”

How good remains to be seen, but two of the last three quarterbacks to play at Auburn under Malzahn had pretty memorable first seasons. Marshall led the Tigers to an SEC championship and a spot in the BCS title game, and Cam Newton went undefeated his first year at Auburn, bringing a national championship back to the Plains.

Johnson hopes he can follow in their footsteps, assuming he wins the job.

“Like I said, I'm just trying to become a leader first to where my team can follow me, but mainly my goal is to win a national championship,” he said.

It was a sad day for the Auburn football team. A day after Will Muschamp was announced as the new defensive coordinator, the Tigers lost one of their own when freshman tight end Jakell Mitchell was shot and killed early Sunday morning.

“I’m devastated and saddened by the passing of Jakell Mitchell,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said in a statement. “My thoughts and prayers are with Jakell’s family and friends, who are suffering through this senseless tragedy.

“I know the Auburn family is hurting, especially our players and coaches, and we are going to love and support them through this difficult time. We have lost a member of our family too young, too soon.”

The loss of Mitchell, who grew up not far from Auburn’s campus, prompted several of his coaches and teammates to express their grief via Twitter on Sunday.
Even some former Alabama players, now playing in the NFL, shared their condolences to Mitchell and the Auburn family before Sunday's game.
Who’s next? That’s the question asked by so many college football fans this time of year. Who’s the next star going to be? For some fans, they’re more excited to see the incoming freshmen for the first time rather than the players who are already on campus.

It’s no different at Auburn, where Gus Malzahn and his staff signed a top-10 recruiting class this past February in their first full year together. Now it’s time to take the field, and Malzahn believes a handful of newcomers, true freshmen included, could play when the Tigers open the season at home against Arkansas.

Over the weekend, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee echoed Malzahn’s thoughts and praised the incoming freshmen.

“Overall, we’re very pleased with our freshman class on the offensive side of the ball,” Lashlee said. “I feel like all those guys are what we thought they were or maybe even more.”

Here’s a look at five freshmen on offense who either impressed during fall camp or have a chance to play this season.

Note: This is true freshmen only, which is why junior college transfer D'haquille Williams isn’t on the list.

[+] EnlargeBraden Smith
Courtesy of IntersportBraden Smith's strength and versatility is already making an impact at Auburn.
RB Racean Thomas: Thomas was the highest-ranked recruit in Auburn’s 2014 class, and despite a crowded backfield, he has the best chance to play early. Thomas, who arrived in the summer, impressed the coaches during camp and should only get better as the year goes on. Fellow freshman running back Kamryn Pettway also had a good camp, but Thomas is the name to know. Don’t be surprised if he’s the lead back by the end of the season.

OT Braden Smith: Lashlee refers to him as the Hulk; Reese Dismukes thinks he looks more like Ivan Drago from "Rocky IV." Regardless of what you call him, Smith is a physical specimen. He might be one of the strongest players on the team, and he’s just a freshman. He’s currently taking reps behind Shon Coleman at left tackle, but he can play anywhere and provides a safety valve for the Tigers up front.

HB Jakell Mitchell: It’s been little more than a year since Mitchell tore his ACL, forcing him to miss his senior high school season, but you wouldn’t know it based on his performance in fall camp. He’s blown away the coaches with his athleticism, and though he still needs to add weight, he gives Auburn a different look at the H-back position.

WR Stanton Truitt: Unlike the other freshmen on this list, Truitt had the luxury of arriving in January and going through spring practice. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he plays a position in which Auburn is loaded. However, there’s a good chance the 5-foot-9, 175-pound dynamo still will find his way onto the field, possibly as a return man.

QB Sean White: Is White going to play this year? The coaches sure hope not. They want to redshirt him, if possible. So why is he on this list? Simple: He was one of the top freshman performers in fall camp and did enough that Malzahn named him the No. 3 quarterback behind Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson. White clearly has a bright future.

Malzahn remains mum on Auburn QBs

August, 21, 2014
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AUBURN, Ala. – The season is less than 10 days away, and Auburn has yet to name its starting quarterback for the season opener against Arkansas. In his last media availability before game week, head coach Gus Malzahn wouldn’t divulge details as to who is starting or how much of the first game Nick Marshall will miss because of his suspension.

“We’ll have a plan,” Malzahn said. “Me and Rhett [Lashlee] will get together this weekend, and we’ll go from there.”

[+] EnlargeJeremy Johnson
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesThere's no official word, but Jeremy Johnson seems to be the likely starter in Auburn's season opener.
For those wondering if Malzahn is leaving the door open for Marshall to start, he extinguished those rumors Tuesday, reiterating that Marshall will not start against the Razorbacks, a decision he announced at the beginning of fall camp following Marshall's citation for marijuana this offseason.

Malzahn also recently named true freshman Sean White the team’s third-string quarterback, which leaves sophomore Jeremy Johnson the front-runner and really only candidate to start the first game, though nothing has been made official.

On Saturday, Johnson said he hadn’t been told who the starter would be, but that he was preparing as he if were the guy.

“I still approach practice every day as the starter,” Johnson said. “I’m getting reps with both orange and blue, first team and second team, but if I’m called upon to start the first game, I’ll be ready.”

The depth chart for the first game comes out Tuesday, so Johnson shouldn’t have long to find out if in fact he is the guy. As far as Johnson’s mental psyche and the not knowing, Malzahn doesn’t believe it will affect the 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback.

“If I worried about anything like that, we’d already have done it,” Malzahn said. “But we don’t worry at all. We’ll have a good plan, and our guys will respond well. We know our guys pretty well.”

The uncertainty does not change the offense either.

“We’ll run our offense regardless [of who’s starting],” Malzahn added Thursday.

Johnson started two games as a freshman and finished 29 of 41 for 422 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school, ranked No. 140 in the 2013 ESPN 300 and No. 6 in the state of Alabama.
Who are the players that this year’s Auburn team cannot live without? This week, I’ll take a look at the five most indispensable players on each side of the ball.

Let’s begin with the offense:

WR Sammie Coates: The talk this spring has been focused on junior college transfer D'haquille Williams and how deep the Auburn receiving corps is, but where would the Tigers have been last year without Coates? The sophomore, who had just six catches the year before, finished with 42 receptions for 902 yards and seven touchdowns. He was the lone player who kept defenses from putting everybody in the box to stop the run, and he’s fast enough that it’s almost impossible for one player to cover him. This year, he’s back and stronger than ever. The one-handed grab in the spring game might have been a glimpse into what’s to come. If Nick Marshall wants to take the next step as a passer, he has to have Coates on the field.


[+] EnlargeCorey Grant
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAuburn has plenty of running backs, but Corey Grant's speed would be hard to replace.
RB Corey Grant: Auburn’s offense is predicated on speed. It’s been the selling point of the program this offseason, and for Gus Malzahn to do what he wants to do, he needs players who are fast. Who better fits the bill than Grant? He reportedly ran a sub-4.2 40 last month, and if you don’t believe it, just go back and watch his touchdown run from the spring game. He brings a different element to the offense. He might lose the starting running back job to Cameron Artis-Payne, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less important. Auburn will have two other backs on campus this fall similar to Artis-Payne, but no player can match Grant’s speed out of the backfield. He’s easily the biggest home run threat on the team.

C Reese Dismukes: There’s an argument to be made that the center is the most important player on an offense. They don’t get as much attention as the quarterback or the skill players, but every single play begins with them. In Auburn’s case, it couldn’t be truer. Dismukes, who has been the starter since 2011, has been though the bad times and the good, and he was instrumental in last year’s turnaround. The senior was named to the Rimington Trophy watch list on Monday, and it would be a shock if he’s not a finalist for the award again this year. If you’re looking for somebody to help Auburn avoid getting complacent, look no further. Dismukes will make sure this team stays hungry in its quest to repeat as SEC champions.

QB Nick Marshall: OK, now the easy one. Marshall was the key last year, and as he improved, so too did the offense. The junior college transfer finished with 1,976 yards passing, 1,068 yards rushing and 26 combined touchdowns. He still has work to do in the passing game, but by all accounts, he’s improved this spring and could be in for a huge senior season. The only argument to be made against Marshall is that quarterback is actually a deep position for Auburn. Backup Jeremy Johnson showed he was more than able last season, and ESPN 300 signal caller Sean White is set to arrive later this month. But let’s not kid ourselves. If Auburn wants to reach the first ever College Football Playoff, it needs Marshall to stay healthy.

RT Avery Young: Typically, it’s the left tackle that teams covet, and while both Shon Coleman and Patrick Miller will be vital to Auburn’s success next season, the versatility of Young on the right side makes him an even more important commodity. Young took over at right tackle midway through the year last year and never relinquished the job. He exceeded expectations as a redshirt freshman, and now he’s entrenched there as the starter. However, the AU coaches gave him some reps at right guard this spring, and his ability to play multiple positions gives Auburn a deeper, more effective offensive line.
Sean WhiteTom Hauck for Student SportsSean White is getting acclimated to Auburn's workout plan while finishing up high school in Florida.

Auburn is loaded at quarterback with Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson, but that doesn’t mean the coaches aren’t excited about incoming freshman Sean White, an ESPN 300 quarterback from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who earned MVP honors at the Elite 11 competition and the Under Armour All-American Game.

We caught up with White to talk about the upcoming season, how he fits in Gus Malzahn’s offense and who he has winning it all in basketball.

I know you’ve been watching the tournament. What are your thoughts so far?

White: It’s been good. There’s been a lot of close games, fun to watch. I haven’t been doing too well (with his bracket), but that’s OK. There’s always more games, so we’ll see how it goes.

What do you think of Auburn’s new basketball coach, Bruce Pearl?

White: I think it’s awesome. I know he was a great coach at Tennessee. He had them going deep in the tournament. I know he’ll do the same thing at Auburn because Auburn is a great place. I think they were just waiting on a real good coach to come in because they have a beautiful gym and everything like that. I think he’s going to do a great job there.

Getting back to football, Auburn started spring practice this week. What are your expectations for the upcoming season?

White: My expectations are high. I think that we have a lot of guys back, especially on offense. We lost a couple guys, but the majority of people are back and defensively I think we’ll be even stronger than we were last season. Teams are going to be looking for us. We’re going to have a bigger target on our back, but I think we’re going to be ready for that. We’re going to work hard in the summer like they’re already up there working hard in the spring. We’ll be ready for everybody’s best shot.

They ran a lot last season. Something like 73 percent of the time. When you get there and it’s your time, do the coaches plan to throw it more?

White: When Coach Malzahn recruited me, he said he adapts his offense to what the quarterback can do. With Nick at quarterback, he’s obviously an unbelievable runner with the ball, so on offense they used his running ability on a lot of plays. The next quarterback that steps in, whether it’s me or someone else, he’s just going to adapt the offense to their strengths and fit it to what they can do well. I think that’s why he’s so successful. Pretty much every quarterback he’s worked with, he’s had success with.

Malzahn is known for his hurry-up, no-huddle offense. How do you feel about running it?

White: I feel really comfortable because in high school, it wasn’t quite as fast as Auburn runs it, but we ran a no-huddle offense, so I’m used to going fast and getting as many plays in as possible. I’m excited to get to Auburn, run it more and play for Coach Malzahn and his system that’s worked for years. Words can’t describe how excited I am.

I have to ask you about the proposed 10-second rule. Obviously it didn’t go through, but what did you think when you saw that?

White: It was pretty obvious that the teams that were for putting in a 10-second rule were teams that ran a small, methodical, pro-style offense, so they were obviously going to try and slow down some of the teams that were beating them with the fast-tempo offenses. They want to play slow. They want to play methodical. So they were trying to get the rule changed, but there’s no evidence that going fast is affecting player safety. I don’t see the NCAA making a rule to change anything like that, so I think Auburn will just be going as fast as ever.

What’s your plan between now and when you enroll? What are you working on?

White: I’m just down here in South Florida throwing. They gave me the huge workout book so I can get accustomed to what they do and the workouts they do. So I’ve been doing those workouts down here over at the school weight room. I’ve been doing speed training and everything just to get myself physically ready, so when I move to Auburn, I’ll be ready to go.

Lastly, who do you have winning it all in the NCAA tournament and why?

White: I like Virginia. I’ve been watching a couple games of them this year. They don’t have any weaknesses. They can score, rebound, do it all. And they’ve been battle-tested in the ACC. I think that’s the best conference in basketball.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 6, 2014
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College football recruiting is currently in a dead period, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a ton of recruiting news around the SEC. There were several commitments during the Under Armour and U.S. Army Bowl All-America games, including the top player in the country, Leonard Fournette, announcing his decision. There were also some decommitments and new, important offers were handed out. Here’s the latest news around the SEC.

SEC schools land big commitments: There was a flurry of commitments during and after the All-American games this weekend. SEC schools landed commitments from eight different players during the Under Armour All-America game and the U.S. Army Bowl. Here’s a closer look at who committed where. All eight players were ranked in the top 150 players of the ESPN 300.

RB Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine) -- Committed to LSU over Alabama and Texas.
DT Gerald WIllis III (New Orleans/Edna Karr) -- Committed to Florida over LSU and Alabama.
S Laurence “Hootie” Jones (Monroe, La./Neville) -- Committed to Alabama over LSU and Ole Miss.
ATH Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr) -- Committed to Texas A&M over LSU.
WR Frank Iheanacho (Houston/Westside) -- Committed to Texas A&M over Missouri, LSU, Oregon and Arkansas.
OL Brian Wallace (Saint Louis/Christian Brothers College HS) -- Committed to Arkansas over Alabama and Missouri.
S Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) -- Committed to LSU over Florida.
DB Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas) -- Committed to Alabama over LSU.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

October, 28, 2013
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As always, there was a lot of news around the Southeastern Conference this weekend. Tennessee and Texas A&M picked up ESPN 300 commits, and Alabama had a five-star visitor. Here's a closer look at the latest recruiting news in the SEC.

Biggest commitment: Despite losing to rival Alabama 45-10 on Saturday, Tennessee picked up a big commitment from ESPN 300 defensive end Dewayne Hendrix (O'Fallon, Ill./O'Fallon Township) on Sunday.

Hendrix, the No. 189 player in the country, chose the Vols over Florida, USC and Missouri.

"My mom and I had a long talk last night and we both thought it was the right time," Hendrix said. "We both felt like we knew it was Tennessee, but we just wanted to make sure and be 100 percent and check out a few other schools. We went out to Ole Miss, Illinois, Mizzou and USC."

The four-star athlete said Tennessee coach Butch Jones played a major factor in his decision to commit to the Vols.

"Coach Jones, how he was recruiting me -- was like no other feeling I've ever had," Hendrix said. "No other coach recruited me how he was. He calls me, inboxes me and every week we're talking."

With the commitment of Hendrix, Tennessee now has 28 commitments including 12 who are ranked in the ESPN 300.

Texas A&M also picked up an ESPN 300 commit, defensive end Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton), on Thursday night.

Cunningham, the No. 234 prospect in the ESPN 300, joins five-star defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 7 player in the country, as Texas A&M commits over the last week and a half.

The Aggies have the ninth-ranked class in the country. It is composed of 16 commitments, 11 of who are ranked in the ESPN 300.

Best weekend performances: Several SEC committed quarterbacks put up huge numbers this weekend. Here's a look at some of the top weekend performances.

QB Sean White (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School) -- Auburn commit: White was 19-of-33 for 389 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-24 loss.

QB Drew Barker (Hebron, Ky./Conner) -- Kentucky commit: Barker was 22-of-30 for 296 yards and three touchdowns and added a rushing score in a 32-20 win.

QB Kyle Allen (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain) -- Texas A&M commit: Allen passed for 296 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-41 loss on Friday night.

RB Nick Chubb (Cedartown, Ga./Cedartown) -- Georgia commit: Rushed for 262 yards and four touchdowns in a 54-28 win on Friday.

Most important visit: ESPN 300 defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) took his second of three planned official visits over the weekend, this one to Alabama. The No. 4 player in the country watched the Tide handle Tennessee 45-10 on Saturday. Hand also plans to visit Florida sometime in the next few weeks before making his decision on Nov. 14. Michigan has been the team to beat for sometime, but was the Alabama visit enough to change his mind? Only time will tell, but judging by Hand's tweets on Saturday and Sunday, it appears he was impressed with Alabama.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

October, 21, 2013
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On the field there was some huge upsets over the weekend in the Southeastern Conference and off the field there was a ton of recruiting news. Here's a closer look at the latest recruiting news in the SEC:

Biggest commitment: After watching Texas A&M's defensive performance on Saturday, there is no question five-star defensive end Myles Garrett's (Arlington, Texas/James Martin) commitment to the Aggies on Friday was the biggest recruiting news of the weekend. Garrett had been a long-time Aggie lean and finally decided to pull the trigger.

For the Aggies, Garrett becomes their 15th commitment including 10 that are ranked in the ESPN 300. Garrett is the No. 7-ranked player in the nation.

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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

October, 7, 2013
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There was plenty of recruiting news in the Southeastern Conference over the weekend. Tennessee hosted several visitors for its exciting game against Georgia, and there were some impressive high school performances as well. Here is the latest news around the SEC.

Biggest commitment: Alabama beat out rival Auburn for Ronnie Clark, the No. 12 athlete and No. 96 overall prospect in the Class of 2014. The Tide continue to have a stronghold on the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in the country. Alabama now has 21 verbal commitments, including 15 who are ranked in the ESPN 300.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

September, 23, 2013
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With football season now in full swing, there was plenty of recruiting news over the weekend. From Georgia's big win over South Carolina with several top prospects in attendance to some impressive high school performances, here is the latest news around the SEC.


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Best SEC classes by position 

September, 10, 2013
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Top to bottom, the Southeastern Conference is recruiting better than any conference in the country. Thirteen of 14 SEC schools are ranked in the top 40 of the recruiting rankings, including six schools ranked in the top 10. Here's a closer look at which SEC school has the top recruiting classes at each position.

Quarterback
Strongest class: Alabama
This is the hardest position to determine who has the strongest class. Four of the top-five quarterbacks in the final Elite 11 rankings -- Sean White (Auburn), Kyle Allen (Texas A&M), Will Grier (Florida) and Jacob Park (Georgia) -- are committed to SEC schools. Alabama, however has the top-ranked quarterback, David Cornwell (Norman, Okla./Norman North) in the ESPN 300. The Under Armour All-American is the 32nd-ranked player in the nation. At 6-foot-5, 241-pounds, Cornwell has a big-time arm and ideal size for the position.

Running back

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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

September, 2, 2013
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With football season now in full swing, there was plenty of recruiting news over the weekend. From top high school performances to a five-star prospect ready to announce his decision, here is the latest news around the SEC.

Biggest commitment: There was only one commitment in the SEC over the weekend. Defensive lineman Braxton Hoyett (Pelham, Ala./Pelham) verbally committed to Mississippi State on Friday. Hoyett also had offers from Miami and UAB. The 6-foot-3, 274-pounder announced his decision via Twitter:

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

August, 26, 2013
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Alabama continued its recruiting dominance by adding an ESPN 300 wide receiver and several SEC commits had huge games to start off the 2013 high school season. Here's a look at the biggest storylines over the weekend.


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SEC Official Visit: Notes from The Opening

July, 8, 2013
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Derek Tyson relays what he learned at The Opening about new Tennessee commit Dillon Bates, Florida commit Will Grier, Cameron Robinson, Ermon Lane and Elite 11 MVP Sean White.

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