Nick Marshall's debut as Auburn's starting quarterback worked out pretty well for Marshall, first-year head coach Gus Malzahn and the Tigers.
All he did was lead the Tigers to a 12-2 season, the SEC title and within 13 seconds of a BCS National Championship.
What will he do for an encore?
With that big arm and a full offseason to work in an offense that he only had five weeks in prior to taking his first in-game snap, he has plenty of room to grow.
So what does he need to work on this offseason to keep Auburn on its perch atop the SEC?
One year removed from playing quarterback at Garden City (Kan.) Community College and 18 months removed from playing defensive back at Georgia, it was clear that there was rust on Marshall's arm when he took snaps for the Tigers against Washington State in the opener.
It was most notable on passes where he has to take a little bit off. That wasn't a major problem for Malzahn's offense in 2013, as the Tigers evolved into a multi-dimensional offense that was predicated on the run in order to take the top off the defense. But the short and intermediate routes were an issue for Marshall.
As you see in the clip above from Auburn's second game of the year versus Arkansas State, Marshall was sort of hit-or-miss on routes that involved timing and touch. At the 11:30 mark, he is way off the mark on a corner route to Sammie Coates that probably would have resulted in a touchdown.
He comes back on the very next play and fires a bullet to Marcus Davis between three defenders where only Davis can catch it for a touchdown.
This is the good and bad of Marshall. He's got a cannon and is rather accurate when he lets it rip, but when he has to take some velocity off, his accuracy suffers.
If Marshall, Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee can add intermediate routes to the mix, it will add a little spice to what's already a recipe for offensive success.
Diversify the Portfolio
Marshall's primary target last season was Coates, but after him, there wasn't much in terms of consistent production.
Ricardo Louis was the hero in the "Miracle on the Plains" against Georgia, but he finished the season with only 28 catches and 325 yards. If Marshall can find someone else to be a deep threat other than Coates, it would serve the same purpose as Marshall putting more touch on passes—it would put even more stress on the defense.
One player who could help Marshall out is junior college transfer wide receiver D'haquille Williams, whom my colleague Adam Kramer mentioned in our discussion of instant-impact early enrollees above.
At 6'3", 215 pounds, Williams is a similar receiver stature-wise to Coates, which will allow the coaching staff to mix up how each is used in the offense.
Marshall will benefit from a full offseason of work, but he now gets the No. 1 junior college receiver to work with all spring and summer in addition to essentially the same supporting cast as last year. If he clicks with someone not named "Sammie Coates," look out.
Marshall's progression as a passer will undoubtedly be a focus of the offseason. But even if he doesn't progress, it's fair to say he proved during his first season on the Plains that he's capable of winning big as a dual-threat quarterback who's more of a threat with his legs than his arm.
But there's a problem—Marshall had issues holding on to the football.
He was credited with 14 fumbles last season and lost six, according to Auburn's self-reported statistics—both of which were team highs. He's electric in space, but as a result, the ball gets away from his body at times, which makes it easier for defenders to pop it loose.
Marshall's ability to make things happen on the ground is great, but if he and the coaching staff can figure out a way for him to maintain ball security while not sacrificing any of the elusiveness that makes him so dangerous, it will help keep that ground game stable despite the loss of running back Tre Mason.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All statistical information is courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com.
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