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A spirit that is not afraid

Auburn quarterback battle still 'Work in progress'

Tj Finley completes a pass on A Day 4/9/22
Tj Finley completes a pass on A Day 4/9/22

It's an unfamiliar scene in recent years for Auburn football- uncertainty going into the season about who will start behind center. 

In the past three seasons, Bo Nix has been the starter, and there wasn't much of a competition to it. However, as the 2022 season looms just two weeks away, offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau addressed the media after Auburn's second fall scrimmage without a clear answer as to who the starting quarterback will be for week one versus Mercer.

For now, though, it's three guys rotating in at first-string QB. TJ Finley, Robby Ashford and Zach Calzada are all taking equal snaps with the first team.

“We’re still working through it with all of them, to be honest with you," Kiesau said. "It’s a work in progress. Right now, we don’t know who the guy is.”

While there is plenty of uncertainty there, the battle is moving along, and Kiesau likes what he sees. Everything the quarterbacks do is being monitored and taken into consideration, and no detail is left unconsidered.

“They’ve all been playing really well," Kiesau said. "The decision (on the starting QB) is going to be a hard one, I can tell you that. We will see who’s going to kind of step out in front after tonight.”

One thing that is certain is Finley started the last three games for Auburn last season, and while all three of those resulted in a loss, experience is valuable for a collegiate QB, especially in the SEC. Finley knows the playbook well, and he led a 3OT charge to give No. 3 Alabama all it could handle to end the regular season.

According to Kiesau, Finley has had a good fall camp and has shown great command and knowledge of the playbook. The biggest takeaway Finley might have from this fall, though, is competition.

"He responded great initially (when other QBs transferred to Auburn). He didn't really bat an eye. He kept his stride and kept going," Kiesau said. "The funny thing was, when we started practicing and put another quarterback with the first team, that got him because it hit home. Like, 'ooh, I'm not taking these reps. These guys are going to get a chance.'

Once he got through that and he understood it's all about competition, he embraced it and it was a lot better. Initially, there was a shock, but he got through it."

Kiesau said the same thing applies to the youngster of the group, Oregon transfer Robby Ashford. Ashford is the only QB in the battle that has not previously started or, better yet, appeared in a college football game, but his athleticism and natural instincts might be giving the redshirt freshman an upper hand in this competition. He went 12-for-16 for 132 yards in a performance that earned him the MVP on A-Day.

Ashford, while inexperienced, brings a unique skillset to the table for Auburn. He is the quickest and shiftiest option for the Tigers. His running ability brings another element to the table and makes Auburn tougher to gameplan for.

While Ashford's accuracy has been a topic of concern, Kiesau notes how the Mobile, Alabama native has matured throughout the fall.

"The biggest progress he’s made in accuracy is that when he first got here, he was trying to throw everything so hard," Kiesau said. "The term we use is ‘catchable ball.’ You’ve got to make it easy for (the receiver). I think he’s gotten a lot better over the last two to three weeks of camp of understanding that, and that’s going to help with his accuracy a lot.”

While Finley and Ashford have both been a force since the spring and participated in A-Day in April, Texas A&M transfer Calzada is still getting on board. He was inactive in the spring and shortly into the summer due to a shoulder injury. 

Despite starting 10 games for the Aggies in 2021 and taking down Alabama, it feels like Calzada is trying to make up for missed time. Kiesau said Calzada has been inconsistent, as was much of his 2021 season.

Calzada is certainly glad to be competing again, though. Don't count the strong-armed passer out of it.

“Zach, we’ve got to keep bringing him along,” Kiesau said. “He has good days and bad days and we’ve got to get him to be consistent."

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A common theme from head coach Bryan Harsin's press conferences throughout the offseason is that many positions are open to whoever earns them, whether that be a young player or a veteran. This especially is true of the QB battle- it is awaiting the best fit to step up and earn the job.

Noah Griffith | Assistant Sports Editor

Noah is a senior in journalism from Salem, Alabama. He joined the Plainsman in August of 2021 after transferring in from Southern Union Community College.

Twitter: @NoahGG01

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