It's not exactly accurate to say that Cam Newton was a blessing and a curse. The quarterback swooped in two years ago and promptly had the greatest individual season in college football history, leading Auburn to a national title and winning the Heisman Trophy along the way. And then as quickly as he came, he was gone. The joy that Newton brought to fans on the Plains can only be described as a blessing, and while "curse" may be a little harsh, he didn't make it easy for anyone under center to follow in his footsteps.
In 2011, Auburn faced struggles across the board. The defensive line couldn't get into the backfield, linebackers couldn't tackle, the secondary couldn't cover and the offensive line couldn't block. But even with all those struggles, the position that received some of the harshest criticism was quarterback. Yes, quarterback play, good or bad, is going to be front and center in most observers' eyes; that's just the nature of the position. But Auburn quarterbacks came under even more fire last year because they were attempting to replace the best quarterback Auburn has ever seen. Even if they had played at their respective peaks for the entire year, Barrett Trotter, Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier were just a reminder that Newton wasn't walking through that door. They were set up for failure. Of course, they didn't perform at their peaks, and the three quarterbacks combined to produce some pretty poor numbers.
Now, we're one more year removed from the Season of Newton, and Cam still ain't walking through that door. Gene Chizik and new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler are working to get more consistent play out of their signal callers. Trotter is gone, forgoing his last year of eligibility to get started in the coaching business. That leaves five players vying for the starting quarterback job.
|QB||Year||Ht, Wt||High School|
|Kiehl Frazier||So.||6-2, 226||Shiloh Christian (Ark.)|
|Clint Moseley||Jr.||6-4, 229||Leroy|
|Jonathan Wallace||Fr.||6-2, 197||Central (Phenix City)|
|Ryan Carter||Fr.||6-2, 204||Hoover|
|Tate O'Conner||RS Fr.||6-2, 177||Savannah (Ga.) Country Day|
There may be five quarterbacks on the roster, but everyone knows that Frazier should get the nod. Moseley is still dealing with the banged up shoulder that kept him out of spring practice and is likely going to fall to third string behind Jonathan Wallace. Wallace has impressed the Auburn coaching staff and has been receiving more snaps as fall practice has dragged on. During Saturday's scrimmage, Wallace received almost all of the second-team snaps. It's looking more and more like the Phenix City product was a Signing Day steal.
While Chizik and Loeffler still say they aren't sold on Frazier as a starter, many practice notes and press conference reports penned by Auburn's beat writers feature quotes from players and coaches that praise Frazier's arm strength, progress, knowledge of the offense, etc.
"(Frazier) knocks you down with the ball," (Emory) Blake said. "Probably the strongest arm I've ever seen on a quarterback. When Cam first got here, he was throwing hard, but I don't know if he was throwing it as hard as Kiehl is."
"I'd say Kiehl, he's stepping up his game. I've watched him grow and get better," (Jay) Prosch said.
"We're looking for the guy that can take Auburn and lead them to win," (Gene) Chizik said. "Kiehl is strongly considered in the mix. I think he's grown a lot as a football player since he's been here."
That's just a small selection of the statements players and coaches have made about Frazier since the beginning of fall camp. By all accounts, he looks much more like a starting SEC quarterback than he did during his freshman season. Part of that likely comes from working under Loeffler, who has mentored many successful quarterbacks over the years, but it can also be credited to the fact that Frazier is really learning how to play the position for the first time in his college career.
"It's just footwork and reads. I didn't do much of that last year in Coach Malzahn's system. I think from a technical standpoint, (Loeffler) expects more. He expects you to play more NFL-like than Coach Malzahn." -- Frazier, after Auburn's first fall practice
On the few occasions Frazier dropped back to pass last season, he looked lost, but he can't be blamed if Malzahn really wasn't teaching him things as simple as reads and footwork. It's hard to imagine that would be the case, but the former offensive coordinator must have decided that he simply wasn't going to give significant playing time to a true freshman. Whatever the reason, Malzahn's handling of Frazier is puzzling.
The fact that Frazier has had to learn the basics of quarterbacking in addition to a new offense under Loeffler explains why it's taking a little longer than expected for the sophomore to officially win the starting job. And while that possibility is somewhat concerning, Frazier should be fine this year thanks to the new system. Loeffler's offense will feature plenty of power running and short, easy throws to tight ends. At least in the early going, Frazier will be asked to do nothing more than manage the game and make occasional plays with his legs. As long as the offensive line and running backs can produce steady success on the ground, Frazier won't be asked to do too much in the passing game until he is ready. However, if Auburn can't get the rushing attack going and Frazier has to start airing it out early in the season, Auburn fans may want to worry. By the end of the year, he should be playing well, but early on, Frazier will likely experience some struggles if he's asked to do too much.
When trying to assess Auburn's current quarterback situation, all we can really draw on is past results. No matter what coaches and players are saying about performances in practice, there's no telling what these guys can do until the first game kicks off. A grade of C- seems to be accurate right now, but if Frazier and Wallace continue to develop, that mark will rise significantly by this time next year.