By Brandon Walker, [email protected]tch.com
July 15, 2014 10:19:40 AM
HOOVER, Ala. -- The most talked-about player during the opening session of Southeastern Conference Media Days wasn't in attendance.
His coach wasn't in a rush to talk about him, either.
After being cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession late last week, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall was replaced as one of the school's three player representatives at the conference's annual meeting.
Asked repeatedly about Marshall and any possible punishment for the senior, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn kept his answers short.
"I'm not to that point yet," Malzahn said when asked about possibly suspending Marshall for the team's season opener against Arkansas on Aug. 30.
Asked to elaborate, the second-year coach said, "We'll see."
Marshall, a senior who started his career at Georgia as a defensive back before transferring to Auburn after a one year at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, passed for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 1,068 yards and 12 scores to lead Auburn to the Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game last season.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder was stopped Friday in Reynolds, Georgia, for a window tint violation. He was cited for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. He won't have to appear at a Sept. 10 court date if he pays $1,100 in fines.
"I'm hoping he learns a lesson," Malzahn said. "I know he's very remorseful, and that's the start. We have high expectations for our players, specifically our quarterback."
Cornerback Jonathon Mincy also was arrested in June on a charge of marijuana possession. Malzahn didn't elaborate on his punishment, either.
However, Malzahn confirmed defensive end Carl Lawson, expected to be one of the defense's top players, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament at the end of spring practice. Malzahn said Lawson had surgery to repair the ACL in early May. He said Lawson is determined to come back, but he indicated it might be late in the season.
"Carl is working very hard," Malzahn said. "He's determined to make it back sometime this year. We'll see how that goes."
'Most complete team'
For a coach trying to rebound from a 4-8 disaster that included a loss to Georgia Southern, Florida coach Will Muschamp didn't lack confidence.
"We had a tough year last year, and that falls on my shoulders," said Muschamp, who won 11 games and led the Gators to the Sugar Bowl in his first season. "We're going to have a good team this year, probably our most complete team we've had since I've been here."
Florida is coming off its first losing season since 1979. But the Gators return seven starters on offense and defense. The defense -- which has been consistently good during Muschamp's three seasons -- is led by sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and junior defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr.
Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel, who missed seven games last season, agreed with Muschamp that Florida has the talent to change its fortunes. Driskel, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior, played in only three games last season because of a season-ending leg fracture. Muschamp also hired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper from Duke to revamp a unit that scored 18.8 points per game -- last in the SEC.
Driskel said Roper's offense is "the polar opposite" of last year's style, which put an emphasis on time of possession and controlling the ball. It's the third offense Driskel has had to learn in the past three seasons.
"I think the game is just moving toward having to score points and trying to get as many plays in as possible, which is coach Roper's mind-set," Driskel said. "He's a positive coach and puts players in positions to be successful."
'This is our time'
Another coach who didn't shy away from expectations was Vanderbilt's Derek Mason, who was attending his first Media Days after replacing James Franklin.
"It is our time to compete for the SEC Eastern Division championship," said Mason, whose team beat Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl last season to finish 9-4. "We've got players who have been to three-straight bowls. Expectations have been raised."
Mason, a former associate head coach and Willie Shaw Director of Defense for Stanford, said three-game starter Patton Robinette probably has an edge over the other five quarterbacks in the battle for the starting job entering preseason camp. That group includes LSU transfer Stephen Rivers, junior Josh Grandy, and redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary. Robinette led Vanderbilt to victories against Florida and Houston.
Vanderbilt has switched to a West Coast offense under coordinator Karl Dorrell, a former UCLA head coach. Mason hopes the move will help the Commodores maintain the momentum Franklin created in three seasons at the school before leaving to become the head coach at Penn State. The Commodores, who finished last season ranked in the top 25, have played in three-straight bowls for the first time, winning two.
"We have to move past the idea of playing for nine wins," he said. "Nine wins, it's really exceptional. At the end of the day, why have nine when you can have 10? Why settle for 10 when you can have 11? That's the way I think. That's the way I want my team to be. Dream big, you can accomplish big things."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat.
Reports from The Associated Press were included in this report.
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