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It's practice and beyond for Auburn's passing game

April 5, 2014

Auburn's Tony Stevens finds the end zone in 2013 (Todd Van Emst photo)

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala. -- Nick Marshall couldn't wait for spring practice to begin working on his passing game, so he called his receivers together and off they went to get better.  

The Auburn quarterback had been playing pass-and-catch before spring practice 2014 ever began. 

"He's really starting to be a leader now, so he got the receivers together, he'd tell us the time and date," said receiver Tony Stevens.  

It shows, said fellow receiver Ricardo Louis, that Marshall "cares and wants to get better."  

The spring reports heading into a Saturday scrimmage on Marshall have been glowing.

"His leadership is very strong," Stevens said. "Last year, he wouldn't do the things that he does now, like go up to the line and tell them, 'hurry up, hurry up.' Now, I can see that he is very settled in the offense, he can just tell everybody what to do now, like how flat he wants us to go on routes, or how deep we should go. He's really very comfortable." 

That's Nick Marshall. The receivers? They're getting better, too, with the addition of junior college transfer D'haquille Williams and newcomer Stanton Truitt and the natural growth by Stevens, Louis, Sammie Coates and the other veterans in Gus Malzahn's offense.  

Stevens called Williams and Truitt "outstanding." 

 "Truitt, he's very fast. He's got speed like Sammie and Ricardo Louis, and he's just out there, getting it in every day mentally and sometimes in there physically. Duke, he's a big body. You just give it to him, and he's going to go up there and get it. That's what we need in this offense. Playmakers."  

"There's a lot more competition," Louis said. "We have a lot more developed, experienced receivers out there. That just helps the whole receiving corps coming together." 

Auburn led the nation in rushing when it ran for 4,596 yards and averaged 328.3 yards per game last season. The Tigers passed for 2,422. Could there be more balance in Auburn's future? How much tinkering do you after blasting through with a school-record 7,000 total yards?

"This year, I think it'll be more like everybody eats," Stevens said. "Right now, we've got so many weapons on offense from the running back position to the O-line to the skills. You can't just stop one of us, then you've got plenty more receivers in the slot, or at running back."  

Stevens figures he's ahead of his game after begin slowed last spring with a hamstring injury. Now, he says, "I'm trying to come in and compete with Sammie and Duke and try to get better every day."  

 Stevens is going against a one-time fellow receiver these days. Trovon Reed has made the move to defensive back.  

 "He's got a veteran's mindset. He likes to talk, and I really think that's what we need, somebody that can get in our head so we can stay in the game mentally," Stevens said. 

More scouting reports? How about quarterback Jeremy Johnson? 

"He's very good," Stevens said. "A hundred-miles-per-hour fastball, that's all he knows. He's been good, though. I can see he's transformed from last year. He knows how to read the coverage now, and knows where to throw it at, so he's gotten very good." 

On receiver Dominic Walker... 

"He's learning the playbook day by day. I think he really pays more attention now than last year, because I think he probably knew he wasn't going to play," Stevens said. 

What about Stevens?

"He has a lot of big-play ability," Louis said. "He shows a lot of flashes of making big plays in practice. The more hard work he puts in, he'll be a great receiver."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:

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