AUBURN, Ala. — Jeremy Johnson's teammates say the Auburn sophomore quarterback would start at the 13 other schools in the SEC.
Although he is senior Nick Marshall's backup, Johnson said he entered each practice of his collegiate career like he's the starter at Auburn.
In less than two weeks, when the Tigers host Arkansas for its season opener, that focus and preparation will pay off for him.
With Marshall sitting an indefinite amount of time against the Razorbacks as part of his punishment for a July marijuana citation, Johnson will most likely—it somehow hasn't been made official yet by Auburn's coaching staff—make his second career start on Aug. 30.
"If I'm called upon, I'll be ready," Johnson said. "I really don't feel any pressure. I've just got to do what I've been coached to do, and everything will pan out right."
A start against an SEC opponent will come at the end of what has been an important month in the development of the young quarterback.
Johnson may not know if he's going to play a quarter, a half or the whole game against the Razorbacks, but his teammates say the sophomore is more than capable of leading the Tigers' offense into the 2014 season.
"Most freshmen are immature, just kind of lollygagging, but now he’s stepped up," senior H-back Brandon Fulse said. "He’s taking the game more seriously now, and I see that. First game, anytime you put him in, we have 100 percent that Jeremy Johnson will get the job done."
Since the start of fall camp, when Malzahn announced Marshall would not start against Arkansas, Johnson has split first-team reps with the returning starter.
Outside of a start against FCS opponent Western Carolina and reserve duty for an injured Marshall against Florida Atlantic last season, Johnson has not had a lot of time running the first-team offense.
The pressure of starting against an SEC opponent in a highly anticipated season opener might be too much for some underclassmen, but teammates said Johnson has showed great poise in the weeks leading up to the Arkansas game.
"I think he’s been handling it all pretty well," junior receiver Ricardo Louis said. "He's been more confident going into his second year. That's going to carry over for him by getting more reps and being more confident in throwing the ball and running the offense."
Auburn's coaches are already looking beyond the season opener in their plans to use a more confident Johnson in the offense this season.
"Me and [offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee] decided Jeremy Johnson was going to have a bigger role regardless this year," Malzahn said. "We've talked about him and his ability and how we feel about him. We feel very good about our quarterback position as a whole."
One area Johnson said he has improved over the offseason is his work with the zone read, a staple of head coach Gus Malzahn's offense. The speedy Marshall excelled with the option last season, but the 6'5" Johnson brings a different element to the Tigers' ground game.
Johnson only ran the ball seven times last season for the Tigers, who mostly played him in special package plays. Whether it's through more package plays or more second-half snaps in lopsided games against weaker opponents, those numbers are expected to rise this season.
"They’ve got packages for me, so whenever it’s my time to go in on a certain package or a certain play, I’m going to make the best of it," Johnson said. "If it calls for a zone read, I can do it perfectly fine."
Johnson was considered a 4-star, pro-style quarterback out of Carver High School in nearby Montgomery, where he was named the 2012 Mr. Football winner for the state of Alabama. Despite the pass-first designation, Johnson still ran for more than 700 yards and seven touchdowns for the Wolverines.
His frame and athleticism may remind Auburn fans of a certain Heisman-winning quarterback, and Johnson said he strives to be just like him.
"I look up to Cam Newton," Johnson said. "I watch Cam on YouTube every day—watch his work ethic and everything he does."
While he has a bigger role for the team this season and aspirations to become an Auburn legend like Newton in his collegiate career, Johnson isn't looking to start any quarterback controversy with Marshall this season.
Johnson went as far to say he knew "for a fact" that Marshall would return to the field and win the Heisman Trophy this season.
Lashlee said the friendship between the two quarterbacks, who went head-to-head in an intense battle for the starting job in 2013, is completely genuine.
"I have even teased them before about their bromance on Instagram," Lashlee said. "They are just good friends. They get along. They are good in meetings. They are good on the practice field. I have never one time thought one had ulterior motives over the other."
So when Johnson leads the offense in Jordan-Hare Stadium a week from Saturday against Arkansas, he will have the full support of his close friend.
"I see Jeremy coming out there and practicing [well] every day," Marshall said. "He's leading the team just like he's going to be the starter, and I'm just behind him 100 percent."
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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