The head coach also went into more detail on what separated the junior college transfer from Jonathan Wallace, who Malzahn said is No. 2 on the depth chart and Jeremy Johnson, who the coach noted is "2A."
"Really, there were a couple of factors that led into it," Malzahn said. "It was a close battle, but the bottom line is when Nick knew what to do he outperformed the others.--the things that he felt comfortable with.
"We really feel like he will have a chance to improve and get better each practice and each game," Malzahn said. "He didn't have the luxury of going through spring, but what he knows he knows extremely well and has a lot of playmaking ability."
Marshall's play-making ability includes sub 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash and a strong arm that can launch a football 80 yards or more down range.
Asked about his reaction when finding out that he had been named the No. 1 QB after Saturday's practice, Marshall said, "It felt good because I worked hard to come to where I am at today so I am just blessed to have that chance they gave me."
At the start of preseason practice there were four quarterbacks competing to be the starter before junior Kiehl Frazier moved to safety. Commenting on winning a starting job, he said, "It was tough because all four of us...they were good quarterbacks. Every one of us worked hard each day. It was good. They supported me through camp so all that went well."
Asked if Marshall has done a good job of learning the offense in a short period of time, Malzahn said, "I think so. What we have asked him to do is extremely challenging, just the communication to the sideline, our installs. When you are going through camp you are installing at a pace for your whole team, not just for your quarterback. When you're putting in four and five new plays each practice, and it adds up, it says a lot if guys can handle that.
"The bottom line it came down to, the stuff that Nick felt comfortable doing and he understood, the sideline and everything that goes with it, that is when he was at his best. From a coaching standpoint that told us that the more he gets comfortable, the better he will get. That's encouraging. You have heard me say before. Our goal this year is to get better each practice and each game and we feel like Nick will be a part of that."
Malzahn said he liked how Marshall handled himself on Sunday night in his first practice as the No. 1 QB. "It felt different. It really did. He was a lot more vocal and I think his teammates really responded to him.
"That is natural, it usually happens and it's always good to see how a guy responds once you give him the keys to the car," the coach said. "I really felt like he went out there, he was encouraging, and it was good to see."
Overall the head coach said the Tigers had a solid practice on Sunday with the focus turning to putting in the game plan for the August 31st opener vs. Washington State. The Tigers worked out in their indoor facility during a rainy evening.
In addition to praising the starter, the head coach also complimented the backups. "Jonathan Wallace also we felt like had a really good camp, and he will be the next guy in if something were to happen to Nick. We have a lot of confidence in him, and his teammates do, too. He understands the offense and he understands the complete playbook.
"Jeremy Johnson is a close. I'm not going to say three, maybe 2A," Malzahn said of the 6-5 freshman from Montgomery. "He also really impressed us. He has got a lot of physical tools. He understands how to run a fast-paced offense because he did it in high school and really impressed us and did a solid job."
Malzahn said the Tigers will not put Johnson on the scout team. Asked if the plan is to redshirt Johnson, he said, "Obviously, at this point, it wouldn't be a bad point if he redshirts because that means the other guys stayed healthy, but we are still bringing him along. He is going to get reps in practice and he's going to understand what happens. He made it interesting. It's very hard to do for a true freshman to make it interesting, but that says a lot about him."
Commenting on Marshall, Malzahn said, "We are always going to play to our quarterback's strengths, but he's very unique. There is no doubt. He's a phenomenal athlete--one of the better athletes I've probably gotten a chance to coach at the quarterback position.
"He has got a very strong arm, and he is very calm. The day that we went live, they were flying around him and I was right back there with him and he seemed like it was seven-on-seven mode. I thought a lot about that, and that had something to do with it, too."
Malzahn said that Marshall showed improvement as he became more comfortable with what he is doing in Auburn's system. "I think each practice you'd see him improve, but the things he felt comfortable with, and it was natural progression and everything and he didn't have to think, I mean he just could react. That is when he was at his best.
"What we will do this first game, we are going to take the plays in that he feels comfortable with. We're starting to learn more about what that is. This week will have a lot to do with it. The good thing is each week he's going to get more and more comfortable."
Malzahn noted that the Tigers have only been able to work with him this month. "All the other quarterbacks I've ever had, really but one, had a chance to go through spring," he said. "Cam (Newton) had a chance to go through spring and if I was judging Cam at this same point, I'd probably feel the same way."
Quarterback coach and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said the staff would have a plan to install just part of the offense for the opener if one of the new quarterbacks won the starting job. Malzahn said he isn't sure how much the Tigers will put in the game plan for the Washington State game.
"We don't have to answer that yet, this week," he said. "We're going to throw quite a bit out there and we'll see what he feels comfortable with. We've always done that, especially early on with a new starter.
"I think early on, you've got to make the quarterback feel comfortable," he said. "It's got to be something that he is confident doing and you try your best not to put him in a bind and ask him to do things he's not comfortable with. This week will be part of that, and obviously by this time next week, we'll have a real good idea about that."
Malzahn noted that the Tigers went into the 2010 season with Newton at quarterback not knowing for sure how he would respond. "The difference is, we never went live with Cam, but there were a lot of things," he said. "If you would have watched Cam two and a half weeks into spring practice, in all fairness, you didn't know for sure he was going to be the quarterback. Everything wasn't perfect.
"We do understand what Nick can do," Malzahn said. "We think he's got a lot more upside, that he'll get better and more comfortable with everything. He's got some ability to make plays when things break down. And y'all already know this, but things break down from time to time, and that has something to do with it, too."
Wallace finished the 2012 season as the No. 1 quarterback during his true freshman season. He and Frazier shared the No. 1 reps in spring training this year. Marshall arrived on campus in July after finishing his juco classes.
Immediately after arriving at Auburn he impressed his new teammates with his arm strength. "I like to throw the ball deep, but then again you can't throw the ball deep every time in this league right here," Marshall said of the SEC. "You have to come down to some of your check-downs, and that's something I work on every day."
Lashlee and Malzahn noted that the quarterback has been working on his throw touch on shorter passes. "I'm improving with that," Marshall said. "I stay after practice and get some of the receivers and work on that also."
Marshall set the Georgia high school state record for career touchdowns with 102 and was Offensive MVP of the Jayhawk Conference last season. He was effective as both a passer and runner at both venues.
Asked how he is fitting in Malzahn's offense, the quarterback said, "It's a good fit, because I've been running this kind of offense since I left high school, and I did some of that in juco, too, so I'm well fit for it."
As a college freshman he played in the SEC at Georgia, but spent all of his time at defensive back. Asked if he felt like he had something to prove when he arrived at Auburn this summer as a quarterback, he said, "I just came in and did what I did best and just whatever happened take control of it."
He said that his one season as a defensive back in the SEC is a plus. ""It helps prepare me a lot. I know what goes on on that side of the ball. Then again I know where to come no matter what the situation is."
Other players on offense say they have seen improvement on that side of the ball since the start of preseason drills. Marshall is no different. "The offense is going to be good," he predicted. "It's on me and I'm going to get better every week."
The Tigers will return to practice on Monday evening for one session and will practice once on Tuesday before taking the day off on Wednesday for the start of fall semester classes.
Marshall and the Tigers will take the field on August 31st at 6 p.m. CDT to play Washington State. The quarterback said he is excited about getting started. "It's going to feel great just because I know the team is behind me and I'm behind them 100 percent. We're going to go out there and win games."