Who’s Next? After AJ McCarron’s tenure, Alabama looks to fill position

CW | Austin Bigoney and Anna Waters

CW | Austin Bigoney and Anna Waters

AJ McCarron sat and stared at his locker after Alabama’s 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. He kept his head up as a few coaches, players and staffers came over and shared a handshake or a hug. It was the end of an era for the two-time national champion quarterback who won all but four games in three years as a starter. Just as one era ends, another must begin. From the time the clock hit zero in New Orleans, so began arguably the most anticipated and easily the most crowded quarterback competition at Alabama since Saban’s arrival in 2007. In reality, it started long before that.

“Everybody was worried when Greg [McElroy] was leaving,” McCarron said. “I heard people say Alabama was going to fall off. I’m sure one of these guys will step up and do an unbelievable job and make a lot of Alabama fans proud and the rest of our coaching staff proud.”

Despite having five other quarterbacks on the roster, only converted running back Blake Sims saw substantial playing time this season.

Sims, a rising senior, isn’t the pure passer that McElroy and McCarron were, but what he lacks in accuracy, he makes up for with his ability to use his legs and scramble.

“It’s going to be fun,” Sims said of the upcoming competition. “Everybody brings a lot to the table. I think Saban is going to pick the best quarterback for the team.”

According to 247Sports, Alec Morris, a three-star, pro-style prospect, redshirted his freshman year but only got on the field this year for a handful of plays against Chattanooga, where he only handed the ball off. The Allen, Texas, native was thought to be the incumbent because his style more fits Saban quarterbacks in the past, but wasn’t able to show what he could do in any game.

The Crimson Tide could look to a trio of redshirt freshmen for its next signal caller. Four-star Cooper Bateman and three-star Parker McLeod both enrolled last January as part of the 2013 recruiting class and took a redshirt this season. Luke Del Rio, the son of Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, turned down scholarship offers from Oregon State, Oklahoma State and UCLA to walk on at Alabama this year. Of the three, Del Rio appears to be the front-runner, as he traveled as the fourth quarterback to road games this season behind Morris and Sims.

“I really just worked hard every day,” Del Rio said. “I don’t know specifically [why I traveled], you’d have to ask the coaches. I just did the best I could when I got here in January, tried to learn the playbook and protections and tried to separate myself. … I think I can execute the offense well. Obviously I have a lot to improve on. This offseason is going to be big for all of us. Let the best man win.”

Alabama also might get some help via transfer.

Jacob Coker, a redshirt sophomore at Florida State this season, lost out on the Seminoles’ starting quarterback job to eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. The Mobile, Ala., native went to AJ McCarron’s high school, was a Crimson Tide fan growing up and turned down a UA scholarship offer to sign with Florida State. He has drawn rave reviews from the Florida State coaching staff. Seminoles quarterback coach Randy Sanders, who has been working with quarterbacks since the 1980s, told CBSSports.com’s Bruce Feldman that Coker has “probably the best (arm) I’ve seen in 25 years at throwing it.” Coker is scheduled to graduate from FSU this spring and could play right away with two years of eligibility left. He declined to comment to Feldman on speculation that he may transfer after he graduates.

Regardless, Alabama will have plenty of options to work with when it gets back on the field for spring practice.

“It’s exciting. I came here for that reason,” Del Rio said. “I turned down scholarships for that reason. For the opportunity to compete, to have the opportunity to start, but nothing’s in place yet. We have to compete in the spring, compete in the fall and see who starts.”