While Malzahn has been very successful at the position over the years from his days at Arkansas to Tulsa to Auburn to Arkansas State and back to the Plains, he said this time around it gave the coaching staff a chance to expand their plans on offense.
"What it allowed us to do was really worry about other positions," Malzahn said. "Coach Lashlee still worked hard with Nick and all that, but it allowed us to work with other positions to take it step farther with the detail as far as the whole offense is concerned."
With Marshall a more comfortable and confident quarterback, Malzahn said he saw a different side of the returning senior during the spring. Completing 59.4 percent of his passes last season for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns with only six interceptions, the junior college transfer did some good things with his arm. When you factor in the 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground it was a monster first year for the former defensive back.
Now ready to take a step forward in his play and with the play of the offense as a whole, Malzahn turned Marshall loose as a passer this spring and the results were impressive. Displaying a better command of the offense and improved throwing mechanics, Marshall showed his head coach plenty on the field and in turn it could mean a more balanced offense moving forward.
"I think we'll be able to do quite a few things," Malzahn said. "More important than anything is just him having more comfort level with our base offense as far as our base concepts, his reads, his progression, his footwork and his eyes. He was a lot more reactive this spring. You could tell he wasn't really having to think hard about the progression of everything. It's coming more natural. We're hoping it will even be better than that in the fall."
While the progression of Marshall was huge for the Tigers in the spring, perhaps the biggest challenge was on the other side of the football. Looking to improve on a defense that allowed 420.7 yards and 24.7 points per game in 2013, Malzahn said one of the first goals was to build depth across the board on that side of the ball. Paper-thin at several positions on its way to the SEC Championship and BCS title game last year, Malzahn said he hopes that won't be the case this time around.
"One of our goals was to develop quality depth," Malzahn said. "We had a lot of information about some of our returners so that was kind of a focus. Then we got a little banged up towards the end, specifically on defense, so we are really hoping that will be a blessing in disguise as far as next fall having more quality depth. Last year we were very thin in some key areas."
Eight Is Enough
There has been plenty of talk about the recent announcement from the Southeastern Conference that the league would remain with the eight conference game schedule and the 6-1-1 format. That will allow traditional rivalry games such as Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee to continue, something that Malzahn said he's all in favor of continuing.
"I was for the eight games," Malzahn said. "Of course, we really enjoy our rivalry with Georgia. We have been playing them for a long time. I would have done whatever they decided and been fine with it, but I like eight games. I think our conference speaks for itself with the track record. We'll learn a lot about this new playoff system and selection, and all that, the next few years."