ATLANTA — The frustrations of Georgia Tech's 2017 season were reflected in TaQuon Marshall's extreme highs and lows.
As a runner, Marshall ran for the most yards by a quarterback in Georgia Tech's history. That's a big claim, especially following a decade in coach Paul Johnson's spread-option attack.The other extreme was painful.
As a passer, Marshall's completion percentage was the worst in the school's modern history. Even for a run-first option attack, completing only 37.1 percent of attempts was unacceptable.
Poor defense earned much of the blame for Georgia Tech's losing record and failure to earn a bowl bid for the second time in three seasons. Nate Woody was hired from Appalachian State as the new defensive coordinator.
Johnson also is looking for improvements on offense, and more efficient passing is a good starting point. Marshall is working on his mechanics this spring in hopes of better production in his senior season.
Marshall raised hopes by completing 10 of 13 passes in a scrimmage on Saturday.
Marshall said Monday he "definitely progressed" from the spring's first scrimmage, when the results were less impressive. "I missed a lot of wide-open guys," he said.
Those inconsistencies test Johnson's patience. "The stats were better," Johnson said, referring to the most recent scrimmage, before adding "but it's still a work in progress."
Hence the continued emphasis on fundamentals.
"The mechanical stuff I'm talking about is like if it's a three-step drop, take a three-step drop," Johnson said. "If it calls for five, take five. Get your shoulders square. Get yourself in position. Because he's got the ability to throw the ball if he gives himself a chance. He's got to get his fundamentals down to get set."
Despite the inconsistencies, Marshall's status as the starter is solid. Last season's backup, Matthew Jordan, decided to end his career following a foot injury. The current backups are sophomore Lucas Johnson and freshman Tobias Oliver.
Left tackle Jahaziel Lee said Marshall's "accuracy is definitely better" this spring.
Friday Grind pic.twitter.com/sMt06bvRV0— GeorgiaTech Football (@GeorgiaTechFB) April 6, 2018
"He's doing a better job of throwing the long ball," Lee said. "The shorts passes, he's still on it. And actually he's doing a better job of staying in the pocket and making sure, looking around and seeing if something is happening before he runs the ball."
Marshall is often compared with his predecessor, Justin Thomas, who was a three-year starter. Johnson said it's important to remember that even though Marshall is entering his senior season, it will only be his second year as a starter. More experience should produce better consistency.
"It's reps," Johnson said. "When we talk about experience, he's played for a year, right? ... I'm sure he can tell you he learns something every day. That's the nature of the game."
Despite the lack of experience, Marshall was difficult to stop as a runner from his first start. He opened last season by running for 249 yards with five touchdowns, but still the Yellow Jackets lost in overtime to Tennessee. It was a fitting start to Georgia Tech's 5-6 season, when Marshall kept running but the wins were too rare.
Marshall set Georgia Tech's single-season record for yards rushing by a quarterback with 1,146, which ranked third in ACC. Thomas ran for 1,086 yards in 2014.
Georgia Tech must replace Ricky Jeune, the team's top receiver last season. A breakout candidate is Jalen Camp (6-2, 213) who has excellent size and speed but is still developing the blocking skills which are vital in the option game.
Camp caught three passes of 20 yards or longer from Marshall in Saturday's scrimmage, including a 40-yarder.
"Jalen needs to be a good player for us," Johnson said. "He's got all the tools physically. He's big, he's strong, he's fast. He needs to be more consistent."