HOOVER, Ala. -- There are plenty of similarities.
Both stand at 6-foot-5 and tip the scales at 240 -- give or take a few pounds in either direction. Both are strong-armed, somewhat mobile quarterbacks who’ve endured, perhaps even enjoyed, Heisman Trophy hype as they entered their first season as starters at Auburn.
Jeremy Johnson made it a point, however, to quell comparisons between himself and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who led the 2010 Auburn Tigers to a national title.
“Cam is Cam, and I’m me,” Johnson said at Monday’s SEC Media Days session. “I don’t too much compare myself to Cam. We’re different people; we have different talents. I don’t too much compare myself to him.”
Johnson called Newton a great person and did admit to learning a thing or two from his conversations with Newton on campus as the face of the Panthers’ franchise finished his degree at Auburn. As trusted advisers go, however, count Nick Marshall as Johnson’s confidant.
After graduating from nearby Carver in Montgomery, Alabama, Johnson enrolled at Auburn. He carried the title of Alabama’s Mr. Football 2012 with him to campus and was immediately parked on the bench. Johnson was forced to release his grasp on former accolades in order to hold a clipboard for Marshall for two seasons, which the third-year Tigers quarterback called a humbling experience.
While waiting in the wings for his shot at calling plays full time, Johnson focused on learning from Marshall. The biggest lesson: finding ways to handle adversity. Johnson marveled in Marshall’s ability to manage the highs and lows of SEC stardom.
“He handled adversity very well, and like I said, I’m going to use that for this year because I know my teammates are going to be looking at me when things go good and bad,” Johnson said. “I’ve got to be able to handle myself the right way in order to be a leader on this team.”
One way to ease his transition into leadership would be to start the 2015 season much like the 2014 season began.
Filling in for Marshall as he was suspended for one half, Johnson completed 12-of-16 passes against Arkansas and threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Those two quarters of football whetted appetites of the Auburn fans, and the five games in which he played as a backup went a long way toward keeping the hype train going.
In 11 career games at Auburn, Johnson has completed 73.1 percent of his passes. He sported a 198.4 passer rating and has thrown nine touchdown passes to just two interceptions. He’s much more precise than Marshall and Newton, has an NFL-ready cannon of an arm and a supporting cast around him that is expected breed success.
Auburn’s backfield should emerge as one of the deepest in the country and toughest in the SEC. The Tigers’ receiving corps will be senior-laden, and Johnson mentioned Sunday football aspirations for his fellow offensive stars.
“Ricardo Louis, Melvin Ray and Duke Williams, they all have the potential to be in the NFL,” Johnson said. “They’re big; they’re all like 6-foot-2, right now they’re all like 217 (pounds), 218 around that weight; they’re moving really good. I feel very comfortable with those three guys, and I know they’re going to make a lot of plays this year.”
With that kind of firepower around him, and because of the fact that head coach Gus Malzahn said Auburn finally will be able to “call all of our offense” due to Johnson’s depth and skill, expectations remain high for the Auburn signal-caller. Only Trevone Boykin (TCU), Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State) and Nick Chubb (Georgia) have better Heisman odds than Johnson, according to the online sportsbook Bovada.
If Louis, Ray and Williams all put up seasons that get them picked early in the 2016 NFL draft, and if Johnson can play the entire 2015 season with a similar completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratio that he mustered from 2013-14, he might add another similarity to Newton.
Johnson could play well enough this season to put the Tigers on his back and carry them toward a national title. If that’s how Auburn’s season finishes, Johnson could add one-and-done to his resume; as in one season as starter and off to the NFL.
Just like Newton.