AUBURN, Ala. – When Auburn coach Gus Malzahn subjected the quarterbacks to live tackling in the first preseason scrimmage, Nick Marshall flashed more than his athletic ability.
Malzahn also said he showed a calm demeanor under pressure. Both qualities helped the dual-threat junior college transfer earn the right to run the Tigers' hurry-up, no-huddle offense for the Aug. 31 opener against Washington State.
"We're always going to play to our quarterback's strengths, but he's very unique," Malzahn said. "There's no doubt, he's a phenomenal athlete. One of the better athletes I've probably gotten a chance to coach at the quarterback position. He's got a very strong arm, and he's very calm. The day that we went live, they were flying around him and I was right back there with him and he seemed like it was 7-on-7 mode."
Marshall won what began as a four-man battle that included former starters Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier and freshman Jeremy Johnson. Wallace is the No. 2 quarterback and Malzahn described Johnson as "2A."
Marshall was the last quarterback to arrive on campus this summer, but his ability outshined the other contenders on the plays he had mastered.
"It was a close battle, but the bottom line is when Nick knew what to do he outperformed the others," Malzahn said. "We really feel like he'll have a chance to improve and get better each practice and each game. He didn't have the luxury of going through spring, but what he knows, he knows he knows extremely well and has a lot of playmaking ability."
Marshall is almost certainly the most dangerous runner of the contenders after rushing for 1,000 yards and passing for 3,000 last season at Garden City Community College in Kansas. He spent his freshman season as a defensive back at Georgia but was dismissed from the team for violations in February 2012.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder says he has high goals but "I'm going to bust my tail to achieve my goals and I know the team's going to help me do that."
He was asked about the seemingly inevitable comparisons to Auburn's 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, since both are junior college transfers with their second SEC team.
"I really can't compare myself to him," Marshall said. "I'll just be myself."
Physically, he looks closer to Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel than the towering Newton.
Marshall said it was exciting to watch what Manziel did last season en route to the Heisman.
"But I don't worry about what everybody else does," he said. "I just worry about me and worry about my team."
Malzahn has said it took him awhile to figure out what Newton could do after arriving in January 2010, even after spring practices. A year later, Newton had a national championship ring and Heisman.
"The difference is, we never went live with Cam" in practice, Malzahn said. "But there were a lot of things. If you would have watched Cam two and a half weeks into spring practice, in all fairness, you didn't know for sure he was going to be the quarterback. Everything wasn't perfect.
"We do understand what Nick can do. We think he's got a lot more upside, that he'll get better and more comfortable with everything. He's got some ability to make plays when things break down. And in this league things break down from time to time."