By John Zenor
Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee knows he'll eventually have five quarterbacks chasing the starting job. For now, he's got two who both had mixed results last season.
The Tigers' elusive search for a clear starter — they haven't had an established No. 1 guy since Cam Newton in 2010 — will resume in the spring with sophomore Jonathan Wallace and junior Kiehl Frazier taking the snaps. Chances are, it will carry into preseason camp when three signees arrive.
"There's a lot of unknowns but we feel good about the guys we have and we're going to coach them hard," Lashlee said on Thursday. "The best guy for us and for this team will rise up."
There's unknowns at most positions for the Tigers, who are trying to rebound from a 3-9 season with a new coaching staff.
Lashlee and the other eight members of Gus Malzahn's staff spoke to reporters Thursday, a month before spring practice opens and two weeks after wrapping up a signing class that included some coups, especially on the defensive line and at wide receiver. Both positions need immediate help.
Quarterback is just the most prominent unsettled spot.
Wallace started the final four games after Frazier lost his starting job at midseason. Clint Moseley, who initially took over from a struggling Frazier, has left the team.
Junior college transfer Nick Marshall — a former Georgia defensive back — Alabama Mr. Football Jeremy Johnson and Jason Smith will join the mix this summer.
Lashlee said all five are athletic and good fits for the Tigers' fast-paced, spread offense.
In the meantime, Frazier and Wallace will jockey for the early lead.
"I hope both those guys raise their level immensely," Lashlee said. "I hope it's a tough decision at the end of spring on those two, because they're both doing so good that we're like, 'We can win with both of them.'"
Smith and Johnson were already committed to Auburn when Malzahn was hired to replace Gene Chizik. The coaching staff had to scramble to shore up other positions and replace a few recruits who switched schools after the change.
The new assistants leading the charge at two key spots were both former Auburn players who helped the Tigers land some highly rated players. Malzahn hired Rodney Garner from Georgia as defensive line coach and assistant head coach and Dameyune Craig from Florida State to work with receivers.
Garner helped the Tigers land defensive end Elijah Daniel and five-star defensive tackle Montravius Adams, both of whom announced their decisions on signing day. They joined five-star defensive end Carl Lawsn and junior college tackle Ben Bradley.
Adams' signing especially created a splash.
"That was a major statement," Garner said.
He showed the defensive staff film of Daniel a couple of weeks before signing day, and coordinator Ellis Johnson was quickly sold.
"Some of those guys you just watch two or three snaps and you can just see it," Johnson said.
Johnson, a former South Carolina defensive coordinator, said Lawson compares favorably to Gamecocks star Jadeveon Clowney in at least one regard.
"Carl's got every bit the first step Jadeveon does," said Johnson, who was looking for more explosive linemen. "He's not as long as Jadeveon, but he can do some things maybe he can't do. Elijah has got some of that same length, and he's explosive."
At receiver, Craig helped Auburn flip Orlando, Fla., teammates Tony Stevens and Dominic Walker from other schools, retained longtime commitment Earnest Robinson and signed speedy slot receiver Marcus Davis..
The Tigers had only six returning scholarship players at the position and must replace top target Emory Blake.
"Everything we wanted in the three guys, we were lucky enough to get it in all three," Craig, a former Auburn quarterback, said. "And we got Earnest, who can do everything."
Craig and Garner are both trying to help lead a resurgence for their alma mater after the Tigers' worst season in six decades.
"This is my school, and this is a Top 10 program, too," Garner said. "It's one of the top jobs in the country, and I don't care if they were 3-9, 1-10, 0-11. This is one of the best jobs in the country. I believe that in my heart, and I believe I can sell any young man on that.
"It will not take long to get it back right as long as we're committed to doing the little things right, and we're going to do that."