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Position Group Previews: Quarterbacks

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With what is probably the most settled position group (this year), there is still a lot to learn about the quarterbacks on Auburn’s roster.

Alabama v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With fall [sic] camp coming to a close and Washington prep ramping up soon, it’s time to talk a stroll through the Auburn roster for this fall. Throughout the week, we’ll be previewing each position group, probably one offensive and one defensive per day. Let’s get it started.

THE STARTER

Jarrett Stidham

He’s our quarterback. We know that. But as much as we want to say we know what we have at quarterback, I’m not sure I have any idea what kind of numbers Jarrett Stidham is going to put up this season. Is this the year Auburn finally throws the ball all over the yard, and has a quarterback throw 30-40 times a game with Big 12 style numbers? Even though Jarrett Stidham is from Texas (in case you didn’t know), I don’t think that’s going to be the case, simply because that’s never been the case sans the Tulsa/Arkansas State years for a Gus Malzahn offense. Despite all of the hooplah about what Gus’s offense is and isn’t, when condensed to its most basic form, it’s essentially using a power run game to set up outside sweep/screens and a vertical play-action passing game. With a quarterback as talented as Stidham, the run/pass ratio may lean a little more in favor of the passing game this season, but I wouldn’t expect some major shift in offensive identity where the intermediate passing game becomes an integral part of the offense.

As you can see from in the great visual from @cfbfilmroom, Stidham was pretty good down the field, particularly up the middle. Then there’s the over 700 yards receivers picked up from behind the line of scrimmage, which speaks both to the fantastic talent of the Auburn receivers and to Stidham’s ability to put the ball in the perfect place for them to get upfield. Accuracy on these short balls is arguably even more important than on deep balls, because receivers don’t have time to position themselves when the ball isn’t in the air very long. At over a 90% completion rate and 7+ yards per attempt, you can see why this is an integral part of the Auburn offense.

In 2017, Stidham threw more than 30 times in three games, and Auburn went 1-2. Those two losses were to UGA in the SEC Championship Game, and UCF in the Peach Bowl. The only win? Mercer. If Stidham is going to have a Heisman-campaign worthy season in 2018, it’s going to be because his timing with his receivers underneath is impeccable, and because he’s money on the deep ball. The fact that he can make plays on his feet will only help, if only because the national media craves the “gutsy quarterback lays it all on the line as he reaches over the goal-line” image/narrative.

THE BACKUP

Malik Willis

With news coming from the head hauncho himself that Malik will be the official backup this season, the coaching staff made it clear that they trust Malik more than freshmen Joey Gatewood or Cord Sandberg. In lmited action last year, Willis showed he could handle the basics of the offense, particularly the read option.

Man, that #14 sure does look nice tucking the ball in the backfield.

As much as we’d like to daydream about how Malik Willis could be Nick Marshall should he be called upon to lead the offense, it’s an extremely small sample size. and you would be doing Nick Marshall a disservice by flippantly saying Willis can be him. Marshall, with all his success as an option quarterback, developed into a solid passer, and it’s not clear that Malik will be that yet. Could he? Maybe, but we’ve only seen him throw 7 career passes, and nothing about reports from practices have made you think he’s a superstar ready to burst. And, let me be clear, Nick Marshall was a superstar, and by my eye the third best Auburn quarterback of all time.

Still, Malik will be getting the first chance at the starting gig in 2019 assuming Stidham goes to the draft.

THE REDSHIRTS

I won’t spend too much time on these guys, seeing as they should have a minimal effect on the 2018 season.

Joey Gatewood

A big time signee out of last year’s class, Joey Gatewood is a physical talent at quarterback. At 6-5, 237, the true freshman is going to draw comparisons to everyone’s favorite Auburn quarterback. On the flip side, he is more than a little raw. As good of a runner as he is, Gatewood played several positions in high school, and excelled at all of them, but it limited his growth as a quarterback. While it’s unlikely he sees much time on the field this season, Chip Lindsey and Co. may develop a small package for him to take advantage of the new redshirt rule. This is pure speculation, but if the Wildcat isn’t working well after several of he other candidates have had a try (Cox, Whitlow, etc.), I wouldn’t be shocked to see Gatewood step into the role later in the year.

Cord Sandberg

Another true freshman who will probably redshirt, Cord Sandberg took the Brandon Weeden route to becoming a quarterback. Sandberg spent the last several years playing minor league baseball with the Phillies organization. Despite being a 3rd round draft pick in 2014, the Bradenton FL native never seemed to hit his stride, with a career .243/.298/.348. The 23 year-old lefty decided to come back to football this summer, and saw a likely QB battle to compete in for 2019 at Auburn. I highly doubt we’ll see him in any significant role this season, but as we’ve found out in year’s past, you can never have enough depth at quarterback.

THE FORMER WALK-ON

Devin Adams

The senior leader in the quarterback room, Devin Adams, received a scholarship last week for the hard work he’s put in to this program over the last two years after he walked on from Mississippi Delta Community College. Adams ran the Tigers’ scout team in 2016, and even saw a bit of game action last season where he completed a pass and rushed for six yards against Georgia Southern. While I don’t anticipate seeing him play much this season, he certainly has been a great pickup for Auburn out of JUCO. Congrats on the scholarship, Devin!