In his limited time with Kenny Dillingham in bowl practices, Jarrett Stidham has some takeaways about the Tigers' 29-year-old offensive coordinator.
"He's super hands-on, and he loves the game," Stidham said at Pro Day. "He wants his quarterback to be a dude."
In Stidham's eyes, a "dude" would be a quarterback looked to when the team is enduring the ups and downs of an exhausting SEC schedule.
Stidham believes Dillingham is the right coach to mentor that quarterback, whomever it may be starting under center come August 31 in the Tigers’ season opener against Oregon. And, like all the other Auburn football fans on The Plains and across the country, Auburn’s offensive leader for the past two seasons is eager to watch the competition.
“I’m anxious to see,” Stidham said of the quarterback competition. “I’ll be here for spring ball and stuff and I’ll be at A-Day and all that or should be. I’m excited to see how it all plays out.”
The competition between junior Malik Willis, redshirt freshmen Joey Gatewood and Cord Sandberg, and true freshman Bo Nix is likely to be an offseason-long evaluation for Gus Malzahn and the coaching staff, but that doesn’t mean Auburn wouldn’t prefer a depth chart sooner rather than later.
“Hopefully, by the end of the spring there will be some kind of order,” Malzahn said. “Now, you have to see how that goes. We’ve got four guys competing for the spot and it’s wide-open right now.”
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After Stidham marked the second returning starter at quarterback of Malzahn’s tenure at Auburn last season, the seventh-year head coach will have to assess a QB battle for the first time since 2016.
That season didn’t get off to the greatest start for Malzahn in terms of a quarterback decision. He rotated Jeremy Johnson, John Franklin III and Sean White in the Tigers’ 2016 season-opening loss against No. 2 Clemson in a series of coaching decisions that frustrated Auburn fans to no end. White eventually became the starter and had a respectable season, leading Auburn to a Sugar Bowl berth.
But Malzahn will be looking to avoid a similar early-season debacle in 2019.
“We’ve got a plan,” Malzahn said. “We’ve talked it through. We’re going to give everybody a fair chance. We’re going to compete and we’re going to see who the best guy is.”
Malzahn hopes to have a leader in the clubhouse, yes, but he also didn’t rule out having a downright starter named heading into the summer.
“It’s possible,” Malzahn said of having a starter after A-Day. “We’ll kind of have to see how things go the first couple of weeks, but that is a possibility.”
Nix is the attractive pick among Auburn fans. He’s a five-star legacy prospect whose father, Patrick Nix, ranks seventh in program history for career passing yards. Starting Bo Nix would mark the first true freshman quarterback starter of Malzahn’s Auburn tenure and the first for the Tigers since Stan White in 1990.
Willis, a junior, has the most experience. In mop-up duty his true freshman season, the Atlanta product averaged 13.8 yards per carry and accounted for a pair of touchdowns. Reprising his backup role behind Stidham last season, Willis couldn’t replicate that success as he contributed just over 100 yards from scrimmage on the season.
While still considered a raw prospect, Gatewood possesses the top physical tools of the contenders. At 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds, the former four-star prospect drew comparisons to Cam Newton when he arrived on campus last year. Gatewood redshirted his freshman season, only seeing action in the fourth quarter of the Tigers’ Music City Bowl win over Purdue. In the victory, he rushed for 28 yards.
Sandberg, a 24-year-old sophomore, committed to Auburn last season after six years as a minor league prospect in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. Prior to his MLB stint, Sandberg was a four-star quarterback prospect committed to Mississippi State. His only game action this past season was one pass for 22 yards and three rushes for 35 yards in a Week 2 win over Alabama State.
“I’m excited to see how coach Malzahn handles all four guys,” Stidham said. “I’m anxious to see who rises to the top and who really wants to be the guy.”
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