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Asked after Auburn football’s second spring scrimmage how quarterback Bo Nix was doing picking up a third offense in as many seasons, Bryan Harsin responded matter-of-factly.

“Bo’s smart,” he said. “Bo picks it up. All those quarterbacks, they’ve picked it up.”

That answered the question. But the first-year coach wasn’t done talking. He went on for another five uninterrupted minutes. He uttered 949 words in all.

In them, you can find Harsin’s philosophy on teaching quarterbacks. He has a deep understanding of the position. He played it for Boise State in the late 1990s and coached it at his alma mater from 2006-10 and again as the head coach from 2014-20. The Broncos produced four 3,000-yard passers during that time.

Physically, he said, Nix has all the traits you could want. He has the arm strength to make any throw and athleticism to tuck the ball and run, which he has done effectively throughout his two seasons as a starter. Coaches have been impressed with his work ethic — offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said Nix is one of the players constantly FaceTiming him wanting to learn more about the offense and how he can get better.

It’s what made Nix a five-star prospect coming out of Pinson Valley High. Becoming a top-end performer at the college level, though, is a much more difficult task. Nix can attest. His numbers as a sophomore last season — 59.9 percent completion, 219.5 yards per game, 12 touchdowns — ranked 10th, seventh and sixth, respectively, among SEC quarterbacks.

So learning the base of Auburn’s new offense — “what we’re supposed to do and how to execute it,” Harsin said — is just one step in the process for Nix and the rest of the quarterbacks. The next is learning what options they have to build off the base, such as checks at the line of scrimmage based on what they’re seeing from a defense.

“Once we understand that this is a disadvantage, let's make it an advantage by doing this,” Harsin said. “So you know what you're changing and why you're changing it. I think those guys are getting to know the 'why' at this point.”

The most important step, though, is learning how to make the right play. That’s been the focus through the final week of spring practice heading into the A-Day spring game on Saturday.

“Sometimes, I think quarterbacks, they all want to show you what they know. So the first time you give them an option, they do it. And it's probably not even the right time to do it,” Harsin said.

“You understand the adjustment, now it's about making great decisions. Defense is going to get you. They're gonna get you sometimes. They're gonna have the right call, they're gonna cut somebody loose. There's going to be something that the defense does that you as a quarterback, now, what is your plan? What is your immediate reaction? What are you going to do?”

Harsin spoke for a while about star NFL quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Not the incredible plays that have made them MVPs, Super Bowl champions and future Hall of Famers, but the times they’ve thrown the ball away when a play is not there.

“When Aaron Rodgers throws the ball away, everybody's like — it doesn't matter if it was good or not — 'good decision!' ” Harsin said. “Because everybody knows that Aaron Rodgers knows what he's doing.”

The trap younger quarterbacks fall into, he said, is feeling like they have to push too hard or do too much when a play breaks down or their team falls behind. Nix has certainly struggled with that at times during his career. He rarely gives up on a play, even when he’s fleeing from pressure in the pocket. Sometimes, though, giving up and moving onto the next snap is the smartest to play.

“You have to have a lot of maturity and a lot of toughness — a lot of mental toughness — to make that decision,” Harsin said. “And I'm not talking about throwing the ball well or on time but making good decisions: Pulling it down to run, getting us in the right play. Just doing what's required of you.”

That’s what Harsin and Bobo are trying to instill this spring. Maybe that’s the thing that will help Nix take the step required to elevate Auburn’s offense in Year 3.

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This article originally ran on annistonstar.com.

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