Quarterback decision still up in the air

Quarterback decision still up in the air


Sean Landry

J ake Coker, the much-anticipated transfer from Florida State, stands at 6 feet 5 inches, 250 pounds. Wearing No. 14, Coker resembles a larger, stronger edition of AJ McCarron, the three-time national champion quarterback he hopes to succeed.

If Coker wins the job, it wouldn’t be the first time he followed the Mobile native: Both quarterbacks led the St. Paul’s Episcopal School football team, and Coker appears just behind McCarron for a number of St. Paul’s records.

Beside Coker, five inches shorter and 45 pounds lighter, stands the quarterback who wasn’t really supposed to be here.

Blake Sims came to Alabama as a running back, though he was tagged as an “athlete.” During his redshirt freshman season, the Gainesville, Georgia native carried the ball 22 times, averaging 4.9 yards per carry.

Sims didn’t play quarterback for Alabama until the 2012 season, when the other Sims, Philip, transferred to Virginia after losing the starting spot to McCarron. When he committed, Blake Sims wasn’t assured of what position he would play, between slot receiver, running back or return specialist. He came as a dual-threat quarterback to a pro-style offense, and stayed as a backup quarterback when many have transferred. Now, five years into his career, he has remained in contention for the starting job, surprising even head ?coach Nick Saban.

Then there’s the long shot, the young one, possibly the future of the position: Cooper Bateman. A highly-touted pro-style recruit, the redshirt freshman lacks the experience of other contenders. Every day in practice, though, Bateman is working alongside the others, trying to make the choice that much harder for Saban ?and his coaching staff.

It’s a choice that Saban doesn’t seem eager to make. In fact, Saban said the choice isn’t his to make at all.

“When you come to picking players, and you’re trying to decide who’s going to be the leader of your team, you can’t really force those things,” Saban said at SEC Media Days in July. “You can’t force a relationship. You can’t force happiness. I was always told ‘If you work hard you’ll be successful. If you’re successful you’ll be happy.’ That’s not always true. You have to do something of significance. Somebody on our team is going to have to take the bull by the horns to be the quarterback, and I would like to see that sooner rather than later. But I have no control over that.”

Saban boiled his criteria for a starting quarterback down to three factors: on-field judgment, passing accuracy and leadership.

“Two out of three of those things are a little bit innate in terms of a guy understanding a system, feeling confident in application of that system so they can make good choices and decisions, can lead, can be accurate, to enhance the players around him,” Saban said. “That’s the challenge with a young quarterback.”

Saturday’s scrimmage shed little light on the battle.

“Both guys played an equal number of reps with the ones today,” Saban said of the scrimmage. “Both guys had their moments of doing good things, but I also saw inconsistencies with those guys. I do think Blake probably is playing a little faster right now. He’s been in the system longer, has a better understanding has a little bit more rhythm. I think sometimes Jake is still trying to feel his way. He made some real significant strides in practice this week and really had some really good practices. That’s still going to be a competitive situation.”

Coker, who backed up Heisman winner and national champion Jameis Winston at Florida State, transferred to Alabama after graduating in three years, and was accompanied by the kind of fanfare commonly reserved for five-star recruits.

“Including what they’ve had, he’s much more talented than anything they’ve had,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher told TideSports.com. “I don’t mean to discredit the previous guys; they were all great. But this guy is extremely talented. Arm and mind.”

As for Sims, he’s already exceeded his coach’s earliest expectations.

“Blake has really played well and probably developed into a more consistent player at that position than maybe I thought he could at some point in time,” Saban told Marcus Spears of the SEC Network.

No matter who earns the top spot on the Alabama depth chart, other Alabama players said they support either quarterback.

“Jacob’s done a great job since he came in May. He’s been doing an awesome job with our wide receivers, with our coaches, learning and doing all the little things right, trying to become the quarterback that we want him to be,” senior wide receiver Christion Jones said. “It’s a competitive job for him as well, and he understands that because we’ve got three or four other guys who can also help us win. They all compete and are doing a great job, doing everything the coaches are asking them to do, and it’s fun watching them.”

Junior wide receiver Amari Cooper praised both Coker’s ability and Sims’ intangibles when asked at SEC Media Days.

“[Blake] seems ready,” Cooper said. “He’s approaching every day like he wants it. Like he’s hungry and I like that about him.”

Saban has been characteristically quiet concerning the front-runner for the job. In the 2011 season, the competition extended into the season, with McCarron cementing his position after the season opener against Kent State. Saban has not ruled that out for Coker and Sims, even saying that Alabama could use a two-quarterback system to take advantage of each quarterback’s specific talents.

“Until somebody clearly wins the job, we’re not going to make a decision,” Saban said.