AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Gus Malzahn wants Auburn's offense to get even speedier now that he's finally got his starting quarterback coming back.
The Tigers open spring practice Tuesday with Nick Marshall back for round 2, the first time a Malzahn-led offense has had the luxury of a returning starter at quarterback in his nine seasons on the college level as an offensive coordinator or head coach.
Malzahn is hoping that familiarity and experience means more plays for his hurry-up, no-huddle offense. He was a vocal opponent of a failed offseason push to create a rule designed to pull the reins on similar offenses by penalizing teams who snap the ball before 10 seconds run off the play clock.
"We've got a lot of guys back," he said on Monday. "We've got a quarterback back. We ought to be more comfortable. We've got an offensive staff that's been together for a year. With all that being said, and that being who we are is one of our advantages, we feel like this year we definitely need to improve in that area."
Marshall got a crash course in his system during preseason camp last August after arriving from junior college.
Getting faster, and handling uptempo offenses better on defense, was among the four spring goals Malzahn ticked off on the eve of practice.
He said that starts with communication on both sides of the ball.
Mississippi (78.3 plays per game), Missouri (74.4) and Texas A&M (73.4) were the only Southeastern Conference offenses to average more snaps than the Tigers, who ran 72.4 a game.
Auburn did reach 80 plays four times and ran a combined 165 in the SEC championship game against Missouri and the national championship game loss to Florida State. The Tigers went through last spring without the players who wound up being the top two quarterbacks, Marshall and freshman Jeremy Johnson.
"We think we can be quite a bit faster," Malzahn said. "There's times last year we had a lot of new people out there, a lot of moving parts, and as you get more comfortable the faster you can get.
"And when you think about pace, now defensively there are so many pace offenses, we have to get better on the defensive side too with our communication, our alignment and everything that goes with that."
Besides pace, Malzahn's other three stated goals were improved fundamentals on offense and defense, keeping the mental and physical "edge" built before last season and building more depth.
The Tigers must replace several stars, including tailback Tre Mason, left tackle Greg Robinson and defensive end Dee Ford — all rated among the top NFL prospects at their positions. Five starters are gone from the defense but the offense loses only Mason, Robinson and H-back Jay Prosch.
Auburn still figures to be ranked high going into next season after coming from nowhere in Malzahn's debut to win 12 games and an SEC title in the league's biggest one-year turnaround.
"I think we're going in the right direction," he said. "I feel better about knowing about our team, about who we are physically, mentally and everything that goes with that. We still have work to do. We've got to figure out a way to get better and we're going to have the same approach we did last spring. We're going to be physical and we're going to flat get after it to keep our edge."
The Tigers are converting two offensive players to the secondary during the spring. Receiver Trovon Reed will work at cornerback and tailback Johnathan Ford is playing safety after seeing action on both sides of the ball as a freshman.
Malzahn said incoming freshman cornerback Kalvarez Bessent will join the team this summer "on a probationary status" following his offseason arrest on drug charges. The charges were later dropped.