StatTiger: Expect More From Marshall

Columnist Stuart Carter writes about the development of quarterback Nick Marshall as he heads into his second season with the Auburn Tigers.

After leading Auburn to a conference football championship and to the college national championship game in 2013, the expectation level for Nick Marshall should be at an all time high in 2014.

There will be talk of individual awards, another conference championship and the hunt for another shot at a national title. Though many quarterbacks buckle under this kind of pressure and scrutiny, Marshall seems to welcome the challenge of being considered one of the best. Not only has he handled challenges throughout his athletic career, he has thrived at the highest level of competition.

"I know that he has succeeded at every level he has been at and, to me, he has been the best player on the field at every level up to this point," said Marshall's former high school coach, Mark Ledford. "If he continues to do that, it would not surprise me."

Rather than coasting on last season's accomplishments, Marshall took spring practice 2014 as an opportunity to polish his skills to become the best quarterback and leader he can be for the Auburn Tigers.

"I think he could be as good as any quarterback in the SEC," said Matt Miller, Marshall's former coach at Garden City Community College in Kansas. "Talent-wise, he is as talented of a quarterback as Johnny Manziel. You might think I'm crazy for saying that, but you get him on the field he plays at a different level. He has got some freakish talent."

Marshall has proven to be an explosive runner with NFL arm strength. What he lacks at this stage of his development is pro-like consistency and accuracy. Auburn's offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, made it a primary goal to improve Marshall's mechanics during spring training.

Nick Marshall

Even though Lashlee and Auburn Head Coach Gus Malzahn want Marshall to improve his accuracy, it doesn't mean the quarterback hasn't already shown his passing potential. Auburn fans witnessed it as early as the Mississippi State game last season when he directed the Tigers to their game-winning touchdown. The drive was completed with an 11-yard pass thrown with laser-like precision to C.J. Uzomah for the touchdown.

Against LSU he completed two go-routes to Sammie Coates, which set up touchdowns. Both were deep passes that required Marshall to split the safety and corner on both completions.

The game-winning drive against Texas A&M included a third-and-long play in which Marshall threw another perfect pass to Marcus Davis for a 27-yard gain. Marshall hooked up again with Uzomah against Tennessee on a 25-yard touchdown pass off a wheel-route.

Auburn fans aren't likely to ever forget the game-winning touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis against the Georgia Bulldogs. Yes, the play required a fortunate tip of the football, but it was Marshall's mindset to step up into the moment to give Louis the opportunity to make the play. In contrast, think back to the 2002 Georgia game when a young Jason Campbell threw a check down pass to Tre Smith facing a fourth and 13 play.

Marshall delivered the game-tying touchdown pass to Coates during the Iron Bowl, brilliantly holding the ball until the last second before making his delivery.

During the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, Marshall scrambled, stepped up in the pocket and delivered a deep post route to Coates for a 38-yard touchdown. Making plays in the passing game wasn't an issue for Marshall during 2013, but there is certainly room to improve his consistency.

Of the top 100 rated passers in the nation, Marshall ranked No. 10 nationally in generating plays of 25 yards or more. Manziel completed one every 9.5 pass attempts and Marshall did it every 10.0 attempts.

Malzahn said he likes what he has seen in Marshall's development. "There is no doubt he has improved from (January) and he has gotten better, more comfortable. It's like anything else--the more you do something the more comfortable you'll get.

"You can see him in the pocket-- he is just more under control," Malzahn added. "His balance is good, his eyes and progression are good so you can tell that he has really improved."

Having 13 starts under his belt in Malzahn's offense should create a comfort zone for Marshall to continue his growth as a quarterback.

When it came to leadership, Marshall mainly chose to do it by example last season rather than vocally. This season he has become more assertive, knowing the team will be looking to him to forge their path. "I did some last year, but it wasn't a whole lot," he said. "If I speak up more to the team, they'll follow my lead and we'll be better off from there."

Malzahn knows the quarterback is the most important position to his team. The coach is looking for a "team leader" and not just an offensive leader in that role. Marshall's growth as a player and leader can only make Auburn more difficult to defeat.

"Nick's a very talented player, not just running, he can really throw it," Malzahn said. "I know I said that a lot during the fall, but now that he has got a spring, he'll be more comfortable, more reactive and we feel very good about him throwing the football."

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