AUBURN, Ala. — Nick Marshall's spring has not gone as expected.
After arriving at Auburn last June, Marshall won a four-way battle for the starting quarterback job in the span of two weeks of fall camp. Even so, coach Gus Malzahn admitted during Marshall only knew "25 percent" of the Tigers' playbook heading into the 2013 season opener against Washington State.
With the chance to go through spring practice, it was assumed Marshall would be able to use the extra reps to fine-tune his game.
But Saturday, one week out from the annual A-Day Game, Marshall spent more time on the sidelines than he did mixing it up with the Tigers' first-team offense.
"I think (offensive coordinator) Coach (Rhett) Lashlee had him behind with him a lot kind of watching through and things like that," Malzahn said after Saturday's practice.
Marshall, the first returning quarterback in Malzahn's collegiate coaching career, is getting less work in spring camp with two practices left before next Saturday's finale at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Coaches and teammates say the senior signal-caller is not injured, but his drop in reps are giving more opportunities for backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson.
"We're just trying to get different guys looks," said Alex Kozan, Auburn's starting left guard. "Coach Malzahn is pretty confident in what Nick can do, and so are we. We're just trying to get different guys looks and find out what other guys can do."
Mixing and matching across the depth chart has been a theme over the last two weeks of spring practice, from the defensive line to Marshall's and Johnson's targets at wide receiver.
"(Marshall and Johnson) are throwing the ball well," wide receiver Sammie Coates said. "They are reading right. They're just two competitive guys doing a great job right now in spring ball."
Malzahn said he has been impressed with Marshall's overall development since the end of the 2013 regular season, beginning with the practices leading up to the BCS championship game.
"I felt like he really improved, which was the first time he was able to slow down, and Coach Lashlee worked with him," Malzahn said. "There's no doubt he's improved from that time and he's gotten better, more comfortable. It's like anything else — the more you do something, the more comfortable you'll get."
The passing game has taken precedence for Marshall and Johnson in the Tigers' past two practices as the offense strives for more balance in 2014.
"This week was really a strong emphasis on throwing the football, and I think both those guys have had opportunities to do that and got more comfortable," Malzahn said. "We'll do the same thing the next two practices as far as throwing and catching the ball and protecting."