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Another decisive move

So there they are.

Malzahn has 18 more days to prepare Auburn for the opener.

The latest statements by Gus Malzahn that he’s moving swiftly and decisively.

First, he dismissed tight end Ricky Parks for a violation of team rules, a move that solidified Malzahn’s vow to have discipline on his first Auburn football team.

Now, he has named Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson as his top two quarterbacks, a decision that’s hardly surprising after Saturday’s scrimmage.

One of the boldest statements, though, was that Kiehl Frazier decided to move from quarterback to safety. Several things are accomplished by doing that.

First, it sends another signal that all reminders of last season are gone, and, rightly or wrongly, Frazier is one of the reminders of last season’s disaster. Same for Jonathan Wallace, who apparently finished fourth in the quarterback race.

The next thing it does is that it shows definitively that Marshall and Johnson are Malzahn’s guys, now and for the rest of the season. There are fewer potential distractions.

Malzahn won’t have to answer any questions about Frazier after practice or games. There will be no message-board chatter about Frazier if Marshall or Johnson struggles.

There will be no reason for anyone to wonder who Malzahn’s quarterbacks are. They’re Marshall and Johnson, probably in that order.

The other statement that Malzahn made is that Johnson is more than a highly touted backup. He appears to be a legitimate contender for playing time.

If he wasn’t, I’m guessing Frazier would have likely stayed at quarterback. Frazier could have been the backup in name, but Johnson would have likely been the real backup if Marshall had been injured.

Malzahn, though, already has shown that he is unafraid to play a true freshman at quarterback, as exemplified by his willingness to play Mitch Mustain’s at Arkansas in 2006. Johnson, like Mustain, was familiar with Malzahn’s offense before he came to college.

Mustain played for Malzahn at Springdale High School; Johnson was a recruiting target of Malzahn’s early in his career at Carver High School in Montgomery, where he ran a version of Malzahn’s offense.

That’s a huge advantage for Johnson. In his two previous quarterback battles at Auburn - 2009 and 2011 - Malzahn chose the quarterback who showed the best grasp of his offense.

I’m still picking Marshall to be Auburn’s starter against Washington State. But now, with Frazier at safety, I believe Johnson will get some opportunities, maybe several of them.

You don’t seem to hear as much about Marshall as some of the others. There might be a reason for that, and it’s probably good for the Auburn faithful.

Marshall is regarded as the best athlete on the team - and it’s not even close, in the words of people associated with the team.

It’s hard to discount that.

But it’s also hard to discount a 6-foot-5 athlete who has been running a version of your offense for several seasons.

At Carver, Johnson won Mr. Football and almost won Mr. Basketball. Has that ever happened in the history of Alabama high school athletics?

This much we know: Auburn has never started a true freshman on opening day in the modern era.

It appears to be more and more of a possibility, though, after Monday’s announcement.

Either way, whether it’s Marshall or Johnson, it’s been a while since there has been this much excitement at Auburn about the possibilities that await.

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