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Battle to replace Newton officially begins on Plains

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn hopes to go through spring practice with a returning starter at quarterback one of these days.

It won't be this spring.

The national champions opened spring practice Wednesday with largely untested junior Barrett Trotter and totally untested sophomore Clint Moseley vying to replace Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.

"I've been coaching college for six years and had six different starting quarterbacks," Malzahn said. "Somewhere down the line it would be nice to have that second year with the guy who knows how to think in the system, and really that I'll know how they're going to react on the field."

Quarterback is just the most prominent of many position battles the depleted Tigers face after a surprising 14-0 run. Newton, Lombardi Award winner Nick Fairley and leading receiver Darvin Adams all left early for pro careers, joining two dozen departed seniors and five players who were kicked off the team following arrests.

Two more little-used reserves also weren't on the spring roster. Even with three freshman signees enrolling early, all that left about 50 scholarship players until the rest of the Top 10-rated signing class arrives.

Even an ailing head coach Gene Chizik wasn't around for the early portion of Wednesday's practice. He pulled up in his pickup truck at the practice field after warmups and stretching, and didn't speak to the media afterward.

Auburn is practicing on the infield at the track and on the soccer field while their practice fields are being redone.

The biggest question, like last year and the year before, is who will be the starting quarterback. Malzahn said he'd like to pick a No. 1 passer during the spring, but Newton wasn't awarded the job until nearly two weeks after it wrapped up last season and that worked out OK.

Trotter and Moseley are the only scholarship quarterbacks until signee Kiehl Frazier arrives this summer. Malzahn said the two would get equal practice repetitions.

"I don't think there is a No. 1 right now," Trotter said. "We're going to split reps for now and see how things go. I think we got about the same kind of reps. We'll kind of switch it up and kind of see where it goes.

"Right now, they've made it very clear there is not a starter."

Trotter played sparingly in six games last season. He passed for 64 yards without a touchdown or interception and ran for another 68. Moseley's only action came in a blowout of Louisiana-Monroe, and he didn't attempt a pass.

The only other quarterback is walk-on Logan Paul.

Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said the first day of practice was "shaky at times" for the two spring quarterback contenders.

"But I see two guys who are going to compete against each other and two good close friends with each other," Lutzenkirchen said. "It will be interesting to see what happens because they're both such good competitors and both want to win the job so bad that I think either of them are going to do whatever it takes."

One thing's clear: Neither quarterback is trying to be another Newton, who seemed unstoppable at times as both a runner and a passer.

Moseley said he can move in the pocket but also jokes that the only time he'll run is coming off or onto the field.

"I think I can manage the offense," he said. "Cam was such a different quarterback, literally like no one we've ever seen before. I think I bring a more conventional (quarterback), like what Gus has always had. Just somebody who knows the offense as well as he does. That's what I'm trying to do right now. I'm getting close.

Trotter's joking analogy is that Newton left behind not shoes to fill, but skis.

"His strength was running the ball and doing some different things, and that's not necessarily what I'm focusing on," he said. "There are just different things that I do better than he did, and obviously there are things he can do better than me. You've just got to go out and do your best and do what you know how to do."

The Tigers' laundry list of vacated positions include four offensive linemen, three defensive linemen, three defensive backs, their top their two leading receivers and six of their top seven tacklers.

Freshman offensive linemen Reese Dismukes and Thomas O'Reilly and defensive back Jonathan Rose are all going through spring. Starting cornerback Neiko Thorpe has moved to safety, where Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil are gone.

"We thought that would be best for our football team and best for Neiko," defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "I think it's a win-win for both. Because right now we've got more depth at corner than we did at safety. And I think Neiko's best position is safety. I think he's a much better safety than he is a corner."

McNeil was among four players arrested nearly two weeks ago on charges including first-degree robbery. Chizik dismissed all four and running back Eric Smith.

"This team will grow obviously as the season gets closer and as the games go on, but we're going to be playing a whole bunch of young guys and a whole bunch of inexperienced guys," Malzahn said. "But that's a good thing, and it's just a matter of being a little more patient."