As the search begins for Alabama’s next offensive coordinator, the biggest task for the Crimson Tide heading into the spring will be filling the shoes of quarterback AJ McCarron.
Alabama has a lot of talent at the position, but very little experience among the five quarterbacks on the current Tide roster. Whoever gets the job eventually will have to be able to execute the Alabama offense effectively without making the mistakes common to a young QB.
Redshirt senior Blake Sims is the only quarterback on the team that has actually thrown a pass in a game in college. For his entire career, Sims has completed 23 of just 39 passes for 244 yards, with two touchdowns with no interceptions, along with 67 carries, 355 yards, and two rushing scores.
Sims actually started out his career at Alabama as a running back in 2010 and 2011, behind such talented runners as Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. He played QB in high school and it was his goal to play that position in college as well.
Sims primarily played in blowouts the last two years, and when he came in Alabama moved to a read option offense. This season Sims got the most playing time of his career against Georgia State he ran Alabama’s base offense with no read option or called QB runs.
Later Saban said he wanted to see Sims run the Alabama offense with no called QB runs with most of the first team Alabama offense to see how Sims could handle it in a game situation. Sims responded by completing 14 of his 18 passes for 130 yards and one score, and only ran the ball twice – both on scrambles – for 10 yards.
Sims has much-needed experience, and having been in the Alabama system for four years, he knows the offense better than any other QB as well. He’s struggled with accuracy and decision-making at times, and truly struggled at last year’s A-Day in both departments, but according to Saban he really improved on both accounts during the summer and fall, and it showed in his limited playing time.
Sims also brings a wrinkle to the offense that Alabama has not had since Saban has been here – a truly mobile runner at QB. This could be a huge advantage for Sims as he tries to win the starting job, and even if he doesn’t he may still see playing time during the year as a change of pace.
Behind Sims, the four other quarterbacks on the roster have a grand total of zero career passes combined and only one, Alec Morris, ever stepped foot in a game, though he merely walked out and handed the ball off.
Morris is similar in height to McCarron at 6-foot-3, but is far bigger at over 240 pounds with the strength to go along with that size. Morris played in a spread offense in high school, so he had to learn the basics of a pro style offense while coming to Alabama. He’s not mobile in any way, but has a very quick release though he has a bit of a side arm delivery that Alabama has been trying to improve on.
Redshirt freshman Parker McLeod is closer to where McCarron was coming out of high school, weighing 183 pounds and standing 6-foot-3, but he has bulked up to almost 200 pounds. McLeod wasn’t a highly sought after recruit coming out of high school, much like Greg McElroy, but he has a great delivery and is very accurate. One of the biggest pluses going for McLeod coming out of high school was that he was very efficient and rarely forced bad throws or made bad decisions. That combination appeals strongly to Nick Saban as we all know.
Redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman is identical in height to Parker McLeod but has already gone over 200 pounds. Bateman was considered the third-ranked pocket passer in the 2013 class, and the No. 1 prospect in the state of Utah.
Bateman actually adds mobility and some elusiveness to his size, something that neither McLeod or Morris possess. He is a very smart player that doesn’t make mistakes or force the ball, and has a very strong ball especially on deep throws. He played primarily out of the shotgun in high school so learning the pro-style system and playing under center were his biggest obstacles.
Freshman Luke Del Rio was a walk-on in at Alabama despite receiving scholarship offers from the likes of UCLA, Oklahoma State, Colorado State and Oregon State. The son of NFL coach Jack Del Rio is the smallest of the group at just 6-feet-1. Del Rio’s biggest advantages coming out of high school were his pocket awareness, touch and accuracy, but his arm strength is iffy with an odd throwing motion and delivery at times.
Joining the five current Alabama quarterbacks, as well as a few other scout players, will be a massive freshman from Norman, Oklahoma, David Cornwell. The 6-foot-5, 240 pound gunslinger is by far the largest quarterback on the team, and the largest Saban has recruited at Alabama.
He’s the second-ranked pocket passer in the 2014 class by ESPN and is extremely strong, with the big arm to go along with it. He has been compared to Joe Flacco in the sense that he will take big hits and still get the ball out despite the hits, and Ben Roethlisberger in the sense that he is huge but still able to move around in the pocket and even scramble if need be.
The biggest downside for Cornwell will be the fact that he is coming off of ACL surgery during the 2013 season, missing most of his senior year. He is coming in early to learn the Alabama offense in the spring to get a jumpstart on things, which could make things interesting in this QB race.
A dark horse that may be thrown into the equation here is current Florida State QB Jacob Coker, who has been rumored for months to be considering a transfer to Alabama. Unlike most transfers, Coker would be eligible to play immediately if he did transfer because he is graduating early this year (NCAA rules state that a graduate student can transfer to another school with no penalty of playing time).
The 6-foot-4, 235 pound sophomore grew up an Alabama fan and almost committed to Alabama out of high school, but he and his family grew frustrated at waiting for a scholarship offer from Alabama so he committed to Florida State instead. When the Alabama offer finally did come, he stuck with his commitment to the Seminoles, and then battled with Jameis Winston for the starting job in the spring and fall, eventually losing out to the 2013 Heisman winner.
Coker replaced AJ McCarron at Mobile, Alabama’s Saint Paul High School and could get a shot to do the same at Alabama if he decides to transfer. Just like McCarron he is big, tall and is a prototypical pocket passer coming from a pro-style offense at Saint Paul. He’s a very accurate passer with good arm strength and intelligence to go along with it. During the 2013 season he got plenty of playing time early in Florida State blowouts before tearing his meniscus. For his career he’s completed 21 of 41 passes for 295 yards and scored one rushing TD.
The competition in the spring and fall is going to be interesting. It shouldn’t be expected that a clear cut No. 1 will be named until at least late in fall camp.
In 2011, AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims shared the QB duties in the opener and McCarron wasn’t officially named the starter until the second week of the season, so Saban doesn’t mind extending the competition if he feels that it’s warranted.
Filling McCarron’s shoes will be huge, but in 2009 Greg McElroy was filling in the shoes of John Parker Wilson who at the time held most passing records at Alabama. McElroy went on to lead Alabama to an undefeated national championship season. McCarron was forced to fill McElroy’s shoes in 2011, and then went on to win back-to-back championships, so it is not unprecedented for a new starting QB under Nick Saban to come in and make a huge impact.