*Courtesy Auburn Media Relations*
AUBURN, Ala. — Receiver Quan Bray says Auburn's best efforts to run a pro-style offense didn't work last year because the players just didn't fit.
Square peg. Round hole. Losing season.
But Bray and company are happier now that they have returned to the spread offense and are playing for the coach who recruited them. Bray says the confidence level is higher now that Gus Malzahn has returned to run the show after a one-year detour to Arkansas State. First stop for Malzahn as the Auburn head coach: The season-opener against Washington State at 6 p.m. Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"For him to come back, it’s a great thing because we have a lot of speed on the inside and on the outside and we’ve got a lot of playmakers at every position," Bray said.
"I think we have a lot better feel for it."
Bray and Jaylon Denson have been the most consistent in fall practice, says offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.
"And they should be because they are older guys," Lashlee said. "They are going to be juniors and they’ve had a year in our system before. They are guys we are expecting to step up and lead us, not only from a leadership role, but making plays and kind of setting the expectation of how we want people to practice."
Lashlee said C.J. Uzomah, Ricardo Louis, Sammie Coates, Trovon Reed and freshman Marcus Davis are in the rotation, too.
Bray knows there are responsibilities that come with the compliments.
"I just try to take advantage when my opportunities are there," he said. "I know my teammates are looking up to me to be that guy they know I can be. I just try to go out, focus up and lead by example.
"It’s just a humbling experience I’m going through right now. I’m just trying to be 'that guy.' I’m just trying to make every play. It’s not a lot of pressure. I’m just trying to do what I normally do, what I’ve always been doing."
Auburn must replace last year's leading receiver, Emory Blake, and his 50 catches. Bray is the leading wide or slot receiver returning, with 14 catches for 94 yards. That's not too many, but Bray says it's just a matter of time until everybody's numbers start to improve.
"The confidence level from the spring is a lot different now that everybody has a foundation and knows what to do on each and every day and what the coaches expect from us," he said.
Bray said things are settling in even more now that Auburn has a starting quarterback in Nick Marshall.
"He’s looking more and more comfortable. He’s answering all the questions quicker than he was. I definitely think he’s getting a feel for it," Bray said.
Bray said Auburn fans will see in Marshall "a ballplayer, definitely. Nothing else to be said. You're going to see exciting football.
"He really has an arm, his ability to read coverages and make the right reads and use his feet to get out of trouble is amazing."
How so? "Like he told me, ‘I’m a gamer. Once the lights hit, it’s a game-mentality.’ Once we went live that day at practice and he told me that, he really showed me that.
"That’s when a big-time player steps up."
Another newcomer is Davis.
"He's definitely come in and shown that he’s ready to play," Bray said.