Game Day preview: Riders DB Nick Marshall has Chris Jones’ attention

American defensive back Nick Marshall has caught the eye of Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Chris Jones.

“He gets his hands on a lot of footballs. He certainly touches a lot of footballs, he catches a lot of footballs and it’s not very often that his guy is open. We play man coverage and so that’s really the telltale sign as to how good a player you are,” Jones said.

The 25-year-old has the size (6-foot-1, 207 pounds) Jones covets in cover men. Marshall was signed by the Riders in April and he’s making a push to make the squad: he’s listed as the starter at the boundary corner spot for Sunday’s pre-season game against the Edmonton Eskimos.

The Georgia native was a three-sport star in high school, playing football basketball and track. At Wilcox County High School, Marshall played on both sides of the football, standing out as a quarterback and on defence. He earned a scholarship for football and basketball at the University of Georgia where he won a starting job as a defensive back as a freshman, but after an unspecified violation of team rules, Marshall was dismissed from the Bulldogs.

Marshall transferred to Garden Community College in Garden City, Kansas for the 2012 season. He threw for 3,142 yards and rushed for 1,095 yards and scored 37 total touchdowns (19 rushing, 18 passing) in one season. That led to Auburn University offering him a scholarship as a quarterback.

The Tigers won the SEC Championship in Marshall’s first season as the No. 1 QB. He threw for 1,976 yards (59 completion percentage), 14 touchdowns against six interceptions and rushed for 1,068 yards (6.2 yards-per-carry average) and 12 touchdowns. Auburn lost by three points in the BCS National Championship game to Florida State University that season.

Marshall improved his passing numbers in 2014, 2,532 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions with 798 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. After that, he declared for the 2015 NFL Draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars signed Marshall as an undrafted free agent and spent parts of two season with the Jags and New York Jets, primarily as a returner and defensive back. He played in 21 career NFL games making 18 tackles, defending one pass and returning 25 kick-offs for 574 yards and 11 punts for 69 yards. The Jets waived Marshall after he was suspended four games for testing positive on performance-enhancing drugs and he spent 2017 as an NFL free agent.

Jones and the Riders got to see Marshall live at one of the team’s many free agent camps in the off-season.

“All you have to do is Google his highlight film and see what he did in college,” Jones said.

“There’s not very many people that can start as a true freshman at Georiga at DB and then flip over and make All-American in junior college at quarterback and then go to Auburn and play quarterback and take them to the National Championship and then turn around and go back to the NFL and be a punt returner, kick returner, DB. He’s a special player.”

The Riders have elected to leave a number of the big names at home for their first pre-season tilt, which comes just a week into training camp.

And while Zach Collaros and Brandon Bridge are listed at the top of the depth chart at quarterback, it doesn’t sound like they’ll play.

Meanwhile, the Eskimos depth chart features a familiar line up with most of their projected starters in place. Teams do not have to adhere to the league’s ratio rules – a combined seven national starters on offence and defence – during the pre-season.

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