March 22, 2014
AUBURN, Ala. – When Nick Marshall arrived at Auburn last summer, everyone knew he was an elite athlete with hyper speed and a strong arm. He’d been a defensive back at Georgia two years earlier before piling up big numbers in junior college. No one knew how all that would translate into playing quarterback in the Southeastern Conference.
They know now.
Marshall was immediately good. By the end of the season, he was more than good. He led the Tigers to the SEC championship and to within 13 seconds of the national championship. He was, perhaps, the most dynamic running quarterback in the college game. He made big throws at the biggest of moments – on a game-winning drive against Mississippi State, on a game-winning drive at Texas A&M, on a game-tying drive against Alabama and on the drive that gave Auburn the lead inside the two-minute mark in the BCS Championship Game.
But don’t look for any swagger from Marshall, at least not in public. That’s not his style. He talks mostly about his team and his teammates.
“We know what the expectations are,” Marshall said Saturday after the third practice of the spring. “We are just playing relentless football in practice and getting better every day.”
Marshall said he wants to complete a higher percentage of passes this season. He wants to eliminate the fumbles that sometimes plagued him last season. He wants to be a leader, though being vocal doesn’t come naturally.
“I’m just going to do what they tell me, go through all my progressions and try not to turn the ball over,” Marshall said.
There are lots of reasons to believe Auburn’s passing game will be more dynamic in 2014 than it was in 2013. For one, junior college phenom D’haquille Williams has joined a receiving corps that improved dramatically over the course of last season.
“He’s very impressive,” Marshall said. “He’s a guy that will make a play for you with the ball in the air. We have great receivers this year. It’s going to be sick watching us.”
For all he did last season, Marshall’s teammates and coaches expect more. And he’s showing them more.
“It's just the way he's carrying himself,” head coach Gus Malzahn said. “You can tell he's getting more comfortable, and the game's a lot slower for him, I'd say. He had a solid first week.”
Senior center Reese Dismukes has seen it, too.
“I think he’s a lot more comfortable, being in the system throughout the fall,” Dismukes said. “Coming out there and knowing all the guys, he’s really humble. He just comes out there and works every day. He’s carrying himself a little bit different now, I’d say, as far as a confidence standpoint. He’s accepting coaching like he’s always done.”
Marshall has no doubt that he can throw the ball. He showed it last season. He wants to show it more next season. But he’ll let others do the talking.
“I just let them be the judge,” Marshall said. “I’m just going to do what the coaches ask me to do and wait until the season starts. I know I’ll complete a higher percentage of passes this year.”
And maybe, just maybe, it will all be enough to send the Tigers back to finish what they started on Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
“You can’t dwell on it,” Marshall said. “We put that behind us, and we have to get better and try to get back.”
If the Tigers of 2014 get that done, it’s certain that a quiet quarterback with a game that speaks loudly will be front and center in making it happen.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: