Joe Medley: Marshall’s upside intriguing
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Aug 20, 2013 | 4868 views |  0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Auburn's Nick Marshall was named the starting quarterback Saturday. (Photo by Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)
Auburn's Nick Marshall was named the starting quarterback Saturday. (Photo by Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)
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For all but Auburn’s coaches, players and select people who see practices and scrimmages, Nick Marshall still lives on video.

There’s the video of the latest junior-college transfer to win the quarterback job at Auburn, launching a football from his 15-yard line to the other 15-yard line.

There’s abundant video of scrambles, where the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Marshall looks like former Auburn quarterback and current assistant coach Dameyune Craig.

There’s video of read options, where Marshall’s speed shows. Once he tucks the ball and runs, he looks like Onterio McCalebb, sprinting to the corner on an end-around.

After Sunday night’s news conference at Auburn, there’s more revealing video related to Marshall. We saw him talking to reporters and sounding more like the low-key Jason Campbell than the gregarious Cam Newton, the guy to whom many compare Marshall.

Then comes video of the normally no-nonsense Gus Malzahn showing emotion. The coach’s eyes briefly widen as he calls Marshall one of the most athletic quarterbacks he’s ever coached.

That’s coming from the guy who coached Newton at Auburn.

There’s plenty of risk with Marshall, who has not played quarterback in Football Bowl Subdivision and threw 20 interceptions in one year of junior-college ball.

Still, there’s a reason Marshall won an SEC starting job right out of junior college, without the benefit of spring practice. While Auburn clearly needed quarterback help after a 3-9 season, it’s also clear Malzahn sees Marshall’s upside outweighing the risk of starting him.

The video shows that Marshall brings intriguing problems for any defense.

SEC defensive coordinators will be tempted to walk up safeties against an Auburn team that wants to run 70 percent of time. Go ahead. Receivers will fire deep when Marshall scrambles, and he can throw 70 yards.

OK, so keep a safety back or instruct corners never to leave receivers, no matter how much Marshall scrambles. Go ahead. If he gets to the sideline, then he’s running a long way.

Marshall has limitations. His 20 interceptions a year ago show he must break the temptation to heave every time he scrambles, and he must show a willingness to use underneath receivers.

He also gives up four inches and nearly 50 pounds to Newton, so it’s hard to see Marshall running many “Slam Cam” plays in Malzahn’s system. Expect SEC defenses to string outside rushes, hoping to keep Marshall in the middle of the field.

With Marshall, Auburn will have to use running backs and formations more to tempt defenders to the middle and give him chances to break outside.

Then there’s the matter of the team around Marshall. That team went 3-9 a year ago and looked nothing like the 8-5 team Newton inherited.

Still, Marshall brings play-making skills and presents intriguing dilemmas for SEC defenses.

And for those who scoff at the idea of a mobile, first-year SEC quarterback tormenting SEC defenses, the names Newton and Johnny Manziel come immediately to mind.

If Malzahn and his system can turn Chris Todd into a school-record-setting quarterback a year after Auburn went 5-7, then it’s not so hard to see it working with Marshall.

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.
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