How to handle a dual-threat QB

Don't fiddle with their mechanics too much.

Don't order them to stay in the pocket too long.

Don't give them too much to think about.

And whatever you do, don't try to make them something they're not.

These are some of the rules for dealing with dual-threat quarterbacks. It's a tricky list of dos and don'ts that coaches navigate. Whether on the field or inside the film room, coaches walk a fine line between progress and paralysis by analysis.

"Sometimes I chuckle when I read where a school has said they brought a player in and they're reshaping his throwing motion and changing who he is. I don't believe in that," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who has tutored an 800-yard runner in Zac Robinson and a 4,000-yard passer in Brandon Weeden. "Can they improve? Certainly they can by reps. But can you change them a lot? I don't think so."

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Nick Marshall was one of the most productive dual-threat quarterbacks in the country last season, throwing for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns, and running for 1,068 yards and 12 scores. He led the Tigers to a 12-2 record, an SEC title and a berth in the BCS National Championship. But the former defensive back struggled with his accuracy at times, missed a number of reads and seemed more comfortable tucking the ball and running than sitting in the pocket and delivering.

"He was kind of learning on the fly last season," said offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.

But how much of it was him just being a playmaker who moves the chains by any means necessary?

"If you drop him back and let him play back yard ball, he'll do a pretty good job," coach Gus Malzahn said.

"We put unbelievable pressure on our quarterback to think quick, communicate quick, to read defenses quick. We're a quarterback-oriented offense. If he plays well, we do. If he doesn't, we don't."

Any objective observer would say Marshall handled Auburn's system well in 2013. The win-loss record speaks for itself, as does the Tigers' 39.5 points and 501.3 yards per game last season. But at the same time, you can't ignore the lopsided nature of the numbers. Auburn had nearly twice as many rushing yards as passing, and it attempted only 285 passes, which ranked 116th out of 123 teams in the country.

"He's such a talented player," Lashlee said. "I think all through his life he made so many great plays and great throws off-balance. But it's hard to be consistent that way at our level and in our league."

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Robert Griffin III didn't have many scholarship offers to play quarterback. LSU wanted him as a receiver. Texas, Griffin has said, "Walked into my [high school] coach's office and placed an offer on the table as an 'athlete,' then walked out."

Art Briles, then the coach at Houston, was one of the few to see his potential at QB.

"You knew what kind of athlete he was. You could pull up track times and highlight tapes," said former assistant Phillip Montgomery, who followed Briles to Baylor. "But when he came to camp it solidified everything in our mind. You saw things that you consider as 'it factors': the way he worked, the way he attacked things.

Griffin's accuracy wasn't great at first, but Montgomery wasn't concerned. The bigger picture was far more important.

"Technically, it may not be all correct," he said. "But when he does throw it, you can see some things as it comes off his hand -- does it have some snap on it?"

What he wanted to see, and what Griffin eventually understood, was how to manipulate the pocket.

"The tough thing for Robert and us was, 'OK, you got out of the pocket and picked up 25 yards or more. That's a good play. But if we take this step over to the right and I slide up in the pocket, your receiver had just now gotten past him and you have a big 75-yard touchdown that can light it up. You have to understand what you did. There's nothing wrong with what you did. But if we do this, maybe the end result of it is going to be even better,' " Montgomery said.

The hard part is doing that without taking away the running and improvisation that made playmakers like Griffin great.

Griffin embraced the challenge because, as Montgomery said, "He was always driven not to be known as a running quarterback and a dual-threat guy."

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"He's one of the best quarterbacks in the country," Malzahn said in defense of Marshall. "He proved that last year."

Now, after a full offseason in Auburn's system, the question is where Mashall goes from here. Can he take his game to the next level by doing more damage with his arm? Or is he destined to maintain that run-first mentality?

The answer may be both: still a running quarterback but also a more polished passer.

"It was footwork: having a good base, being on balance, having your front toe, your front knee, your front shoulder all going at your target," Lashlee said. "We really worked his rhythm, his drops, his timing to where at the top of his drop his has a good platform, a good base and can get that power and accuracy in the throw."

By all accounts, Marshall has found his way. Lashlee said the staff tracked his completion percentage during spring and fall camp and have seen a "marked improvement."

According to ESPN Stats & Information, that improvement started last year. In the first seven games of the season, Marshall completed only 38.1 percent of passes between 6-14 yards and 28.2 percent on those 15 yards or more. In the last seven, those numbers went up to 58.3 percent and 40 percent, respectively.

"I feel very comfortable back there in the offense right now," Marshall told reporters earlier this month. "Everything's slowed down now to me. I don't have to think too much. I just go through my progressions and just be better than I was last year."

There's a fine line, though. Marshall wants to be a more complete quarterback and Lashlee wants to see better passing efficiency. But you can't take away what makes No. 14 special.

"As a coach, you try to give them the tools and you try to do everything you can to help them get better," Lashlee said. "But when you get into the season, you're going to do what you think they do well and what gives them and your team the best chance to succeed. That's a little different for everybody every year. It will probably be a little different this year than it was last year.

"But at the end of the day, you want to do what they're good at."