Auburn’s quarterback race will kick into gear when the team begins summer workouts, as one of the four candidates for the starting job will finally be fully cleared for competition.
Zach Calzada, the Texas A&M transfer who joined the program in the spring, will be “full-go” for summer workouts after being limited in the spring due to an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, head coach Bryan Harsin said Monday in Alexander City. Calzada is one of two candidates for the starting job — along with T.J. Finley — who has prior starting experience in the SEC.
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“He’s good,” Harsin said. “…He’s really been pushing himself and studying and preparing, so now it’s just a matter of letting him get out there this summer. There’s going to be no contact, there’s no helmets, no pads, anything like that, so he’s going to get all the reps he needs in the summertime.”
Calzada’s introduction, without limitations, will inject some more intrigue into the race for QB1 this offseason. He spent most of the spring as the fourth quarterback in rotation for drills, behind Finley, Oregon transfer Robby Ashford and true freshman Holden Geriner. During the Tigers’ 10th practice of spring, Calzada was seen receiving some reps with the first-team offensive line and running back Tank Bigsby, though those came during the final period of the day and limited to handoffs near the goal line.
Calzada was also held out of Auburn’s A-Day spring game, as Finley received the majority of the first-team reps, Ashford worked with the second team and Geriner engineered a late scoring drive in the fourth quarter.
With Calzada expected to be a full participant in summer workouts, which will largely be run by players, Harsin said the four quarterbacks will get an “equal share” of reps with the offense in the leadup to fall camp, when the competition should be narrowed down following the first scrimmage of the fall.
“Come August, it’s full-go,” Harsin said. “He’s got to be ready to play. If he’s one of the guys that we kind of narrow it down and he’s one of the top guys, then we’ll get him ready to play.”
Summer workouts will be the first opportunity for Harsin and his staff to get a firsthand view of what Calzada can bring to the position—at least since he arrived on campus in January. Auburn previously got an up-close look at Calzada last November in College Station, Texas, when the then-Texas A&M quarterback led the Aggies to a 20-3 win against the Tigers. In that game, Calzada completed 15-of-29 passes for 192 yards, but it’s also the game in which he first injured his non-throwing shoulder — an injury that lingered for several months and hampered him during his first spring on the Plains.
“It’s funny, because in a way, the game he played against us is when he really got banged up, and now we have him on the roster, right? So, you’re sitting there kind of looking at it like, damn,” Harsin said. “It’s just kind of one of those things that you hope he hadn’t gotten injured, and he could have gotten some more reps in the spring.”
Despite his limitations during spring practices, Calzada is still expected to be a major factor in Auburn’s quarterback competition ahead of the team’s season opener against Mercer on Sept. 3 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The third-year sophomore completed 56.1 percent of his passes for 2,185 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions while starting 10 games for Texas A&M last season. While those numbers were by no means gaudy, Calzada also led his team to an upset win against Alabama in October, when he had the best game of his career: 21-of-31 passing for 285 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
That was certainly Calzada’s standout performance last season, but Harsin has also commended the 6-foot-4, 208-pounder for his toughness — both overall and, specifically, in that win against Auburn last November — among other qualities that he looks for in his quarterbacks. Those were evident again last week when Calzada came by the athletics complex to review some of his games from last season with the head coach.
“He showed toughness in a lot of games,” Harsin said. “…He was just kind of taking me through what they did and trying to get a better idea of what he was thinking and why he did certain things and looking at some mechanics. But yeah, there’s a lot of examples when you watch his season — he’s not afraid; he’ll stand in the pocket. He’s going to work on a few other things, but I feel like he’s got those qualities to be successful. But I felt that way about our other quarterbacks.”
Reflecting on the quarterback competition to date, Harsin also lauded the work that Finley—who started the final three games for the Tigers last season—and Ashford accomplished while being the first two players in the rotation. He also praised Geriner for how he competed and finished his first spring after arriving as an early enrollee.
Now, the competition will heat up over the coming months.
“These guys, from May all the way through June, July and into August, they have all this time to prepare to go in there and compete to be the guy,” Harsin said. “So, if they maximize that, we’ll see where they all are, and we’ll be better for it. We’ll have somebody that’s ready to play, and he’ll have been pushed, but he should be able to go out there and compete and go help us win.”
Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.