Nick Marshall

Dissecting Nick Saban’s response to SEC misconduct transfer policy

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Sometimes it does not take much to get Alabama head coach Nick Saban going off on a tangent about any issue on his mind. He did just that today when asked about the SEC’s new policy banning transfers previously disciplined for serious misconduct. Asked if he was in favor of the new rule, Saban voiced his concerns regarding the rule and the limits it has on he and other coaches while dropping the names Cam Newton and Nick Marshall and once again suggesting each power conference should abide by the same set of rules. Maybe he lost his train of thought while answering the question?

Let’s break down Saban’s response to the question, piece by piece because hoo boy there is much to digest. Quotes provided by Al.com;

“I understand what they’re trying to do, and I was really [looking] to clearly define exactly why — or what — I thought convicted and felonies should be involved in the rule, and I guess I got sort of misinterpreted. But one of the points that I tried to make was Cam Newton being in the SEC and Nick Marshall being in the SEC benefited the SEC, and it benefited those players.”

Correct, Newton and Marshall did benefit by playing in the SEC. The league’s notoriety surely helped elevate each player’s skills and prepared them for the next level in the NFL. And yes, each player had some issues in their past before landing at, that’s right, Alabama’s biggest rival in the SEC (Auburn). Except neither player was involved in a crime of the nature the new SEC rule was designed to address. No domestic violence or sexual assault issues followed either player that would, coincidentally, go on to defeat Saban’s Tide en route to an SEC championship during their respective runs as starting quarterback. But perhaps Saban was just using those random (or not so random) players as an example to address the theme of the policy. Saban’s larger sticking point is once again having each power conference play under the same rules, something that carries over from the satellite camp debate.

“What I’m most concerned about, I just think that we should have the same rules in the SEC as all the other Big 5 schools have because now we’re not just talking about the SEC. We’re talking about having a playoff — no different than the NFL. One division in the NFL doesn’t have different rules, different salary caps, different anything because the league knows that parity is the best competitive balance that you can create.”

This statement in particular will be what many latch on to, although it leaves room for interpretation. Is Saban saying every conference should adopt the SEC rules or merely saying each conference should use the same rules? In theory, and perhaps in an ideal world, Saban would have his way with everybody playing by the same set of rules, and this is one idea I happen to think Saban is right on the money about. However, who is to say the SEC rules should trump what the Big Ten plays by? Certainly not Saban.

Carry on Saban.

“So when we pass rules that other people that we have to compete against — and if that is really what’s best for the young people that we’re dealing with here, the student-athletes that we’re dealing with – then it should be best for everyone, or otherwise we shouldn’t do it. So I’m hopeful that some kind of way we’ll be able to get the Big 5 together — under the NCAA’s supervision — to try to create rules that we all see in the best interest of student-athletes, which I think we need to be thinking about here: Why do we do this? It is to benefit the student-athletes, to promote opportunities for the student-athletes.”

To his credit, Saban has established a track record of giving players second (or more) chances during his career. This has rubbed some the wrong way, but sometimes players do deserve another chance to thrive. This has gotten Saban into a sticky situation recently, but his overlaying theme is a good one. If we really are to believe these power conferences and programs have the best interests of the student-athletes and want to do everything possible to provide the best opportunities when they leave, then putting rules in place that allow for this to happen is needed, and preferably every conference would adopt the same rules. But we know this is not ultimately the case, which leaves Saban likely to stand alone with some of his opinions.

One more from Saban, again per Al.com

“Now, they have a responsibility and obligation to do the right thing. But what I see happening a lot is people don’t get convicted of things. They’re condemned as soon as they get arrested, and I’m not sure that’s fair because I don’t think that’s what our country was really built on.”

You may not like Saban for one reason or another, but he does go to the defense of his players, even when it may not be the wisest decision. Does he have other interests at heart? Undoubtedly. He is not the highest-paid head coach in college football for no reason, but he does seem to want the best for his players and the players on other programs as well. If it helps him win some extra games, then great. He may have gone off the mark in his response to this particular subject, but his statements should not go completely without merit.

Muschamp already has Auburn’s defense leading the way

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Ask anyone who watched Auburn the biggest need of improvement from 214, and the answer might be the defense. Auburn’s defense is on the right track in a hurry with Will Muschamp taking over as defensive coordinator. The spring game was the latest example of that defense turning a corner.

Since Gus Malzahn has been named head coach at Auburn a couple of years ago, this was the lowest scoring spring game for the Tigers. Credit that to Muschamp getting to work early with the Tigers defense and making some changes. He also brings some energy to the defense, something he has been noted for throughout his coaching career.

“They’re flying around,” Malzahn said. “They’re playing hard.”

Everybody loves Coach Muschamp,” defensive tackle Montravius Adams said after the game, per Al.com. “He’s bringing that energy and changing the question to the whole defense, so we’re going to be a top contender.”

It was just a spring game, but Auburn is feeling more comfortable on defense. They have a defensive coordinator who can cook up some good schemes and have his players buy in. It’s working, and that could be huge if Auburn is going to make some things happen in 2015.

The other side of the Auburn conversation is who replaces Nick Marshall at quarterback? After the spring game it looks as though the answer is more and more likely to be Jeremy Johnson. In fact, let’s put him atop the depth chart for the summer now. Johnson completed 14-of-22 passes for 252 yards with a pair of long touchdowns to Duke Williams and Myron Burton.

“I thought Jeremy did some good things,” Malzahn said. “He has really good command of our offense. He probably held the ball a little too long a couple of throws, but, overall, I thought he did a good job.”

Auburn opens the 2015 season in Atlanta against Louisville in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff on September 5.

Auburn spring practices opens with QB competition ready to go

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The race to replace Nick Marshall as Auburn’s starting quarterback is officially open. With Auburn getting started with spring practices on Tuesday, head coach Gus Malzahn lit the green light on the competition for four candidates for the starting job in the fall; Jeremy Johnson, Jason Smith, Tyler Queen and Sean White.

Johnson is believed to be the leading candidate for the starting job when it comes time for Malzahn to make a decision, but the head coach told reporters on Tuesday all four quarterbacks will get close to equal reps this spring. Last season saw Johnson receive playing time in seven games, and he performed well in his back-up role. Johnson completed 27 of 38 pass attempts for 436 yards and three touchdowns without an interception thrown, and he rushed for another touchdown. It was Johnson that started the season for the Tigers as Marshall sat out for disciplinary reasons, but he never was given a chance to truly challenge Marshall for the starting job. This year is a different story as the veteran and trusted Marshall has moved on and the audition for the next starting quarterback is starting up.

“The first few days of spring you want to make sure when you’re installing the base offense you give these guys enough reps,” Malzahn told reports Tuesday, as reported by Al.com. “All four quarterbacks, including [junior college transfer] Jason Smith, will get “fairly equal” snaps.”

Malzahn has seemed very high on what Smith can bring to the table, but this still feels like Johnson’s job to lose. Malzahn also suggested there is no timetable for a decision to be made, and it might be possible Smith could be moved to a different position of need if he does not win a job under center.

In addition to addressing Auburn’s quarterback competition, Malzhan also confirmed some previously reported roster changes. Linebacker Anthony Swain and punter Jimmy Hutchinson were each reported to be off the roster last week, and Malzahn confirmed that today.

Nick Marshall would like to work out as QB at NFL Combine

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Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall accepted life at a new position during the Senior Bowl in January, but he still has hopes of impressing someone in the NFL from the quarterback position. When he attends the NFL Combine in Indianapolis the former Auburn quarterback says he is open to working out at whatever positions scouts and NFL teams would like, including quarterback.

“I’m not sure yet. I’m going to do what they want me to do,” Marshall told Auburn Undercover. “It will make me more valuable to do both.”

Marshall was initially invited to the combine to be evaluated as a quarterback, but he said he was intending to work out with defensive backs instead. Marshall was also invited to play quarterback at the Senior Bowl but spent time playing defensive back, a position many scouts feel may be more suitable for Marshall in the league.

Marshall completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 2,532 yards and 20 touchdowns with seven interceptions last season for Auburn. If he does end up with a chance to throw at the combine, scouts will take notice, but his more likely position in the NFL may be more likely to come elsewhere even with a positive showing in Indianapolis.

Ameer Abdullah earns Reese’s Senior Bowl MVP as North triumphs over South

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The 2014 season was one for the ages for Big Ten running backs, so it was fitting to see Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Minnesota’s David Cobb help lead the North to a Reese’s Senior Bowl victory Saturday in Mobile, Alabama. Abdullah, the game’s MVP, rushed for 73 yards and added 40 receiving yards and Cobb rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown. The North pulled away from the South in the second half for a 34-13 victory.

For Abdullah, the chance to wrap up his collegiate career before a large group of family and friends from his home state of Alabama was a special opportunity

“Being down here was much more than putting on a good performance for me,” Abdullah said after the game. “Leaving this state was something that was hard for me to do. You could write a movie about it, really, just coming back and playing on Alabama soil for my last time as a collegiate athlete. I couldn’t paint a better picture.”

The Senior Bowl performance was especially good for Abdullah, who had battled some injuries in 2014 and had a somewhat discouraging week of practice leading up to the game according to some scouting reports.

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty also had a tough time in practices this week, missing out on an opportunity to shine in the spotlight for a game without two of the top quarterbacks entering the NFL Draft (Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston). Petty completed nine of his 13 pass attempts for 123 yards and was intercepted once. It was not a banner week for any of the quarterbacks in the game, to be fair. Oregon State’s Sean Mannion tossed the only touchdown pass of the afternoon, a 10-yard pass to Notre Dame tight end Ben Koyack in the second quarter. Auburn’s Nick Marshall made the move to cornerback and recorded five tackles in the game, tied for the most tackles on the South team.

The Pac-12 had two players stand out in the game on defense as well. Utah defensive end Nate Orchard and Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton were among the defensive standouts with five tackles. Orchard had 1.5 tackles for a loss in his stat line.

How much stock is placed on one performance in the Senior Bowl varies by team and scout, but there were some players that stood out above most of the others on Saturday. Yale fullback Tyler Varga was one of them. Varga had four rushing attempts resulting in 31 yards and he was the North’s second leading receiver behind Abdullah with 39 receiving yards.