BRISTOL, Conn. -- Auburn coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t said whether or not quarterback Nick Marshall will miss playing time as punishment for his recent citation on misdemeanor charges of possession of marijuana.
Even if Marshall doesn’t miss any action, Malzahn still seems intent on playing his backup, Jeremy Johnson, this season.
Last season, Marshall, a former Georgia defensive back, led the Tigers to a 12-2 record, an SEC championship and appearance in the VIZIO BCS National Championship in his first season at Auburn.
“Even before [Marshall’s arrest on June 11], at the end of spring practice, [offensive coordinator Rhett] Lashlee and I made a commitment that Jeremy was going to have a role,” Malzahn said. “He’s an NFL quarterback, no doubt.”
While it might be hard to imagine the Tigers sitting a quarterback who guided them to within seconds of winning a national championship -- Florida State’s Jameis Winston threw a 2-yard touchdown to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds to go for a 34-31 victory in the title game -- Malzahn believes Johnson is every bit as talented as Marshall.
Last season, Johnson, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Montgomery, Alabama, completed 70 percent of his passes for 422 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions in six games. In his college debut against FCS foe Western Carolina on Oct. 12, Johnson threw for 201 yards with four touchdowns in a 62-3 rout.
“He’s got a lot of talent and he’s a good one,” Malzahn said. “He could start for a lot of people.”
Before Marshall's recent setback, Malzahn said Marshall had done nearly everything the Tigers coaching staff had asked of him during the offseason. After spending the 2012 season at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, following his dismissal from Georgia’s team, Marshall didn’t arrive at Auburn until last summer, which didn’t give him a lot of time to digest Malzahn’s spread offense.
With a full offseason under his belt, Marshall should be even better in Year 2 as an SEC quarterback. Last season, he completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 1,976 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran for 1,068 yards with 12 scores.
But at times last season, it was obvious Marshall was far from a polished passer. He threw for fewer than 150 yards in eight of Auburn’s 14 games.
“After this past spring, he had just a completely different mindset and understanding of the game, offense and everything,” Malzahn said.
Malzahn said Lashlee really worked to improve Marshall’s footwork, which should help his accuracy this season.
“That’s the main thing,” Malzahn said. “He has a strong arm, but we worked hard on his feet and his balance.”
Malzahn also encouraged Marshall to stay at Auburn this summer instead of working with private quarterback coaches such as George Whitfield or Tom House, like other high-profile quarterbacks have done in the recent past.
“I’m sure there are some great quarterback coaches out there,” Malzahn said. “But we want our guys to think exactly like us. When his eligibility is gone, he can work with whoever he wants.”