Now that AJ McCarron is making his way to the NFL, Alabama head coach Saban is left with a difficult decision.
Under Saban, Alabama has primarily been a program with a “game manager” in the QB position. The Tide is known for making big defensive plays and running the ball down the throats of their opponents. It works. There hasn’t been a standout talent taking snaps until McCarron came along.
Though some may still think that he fit the “game manager” mold, it will soon be evident that he was much more. Not only did he lead the offense, but he had the ability to read defenses, change plays and turn seemingly catastrophic situations into positive yardage. When big games put us on the edge of our seats, fists clinched and muttering small prayers under our breaths, McCarron pulled us through.
Replacing him will be no easy task.
According to Al.com, Saban knows exactly what he is looking for:
“I think the most important thing about playing quarterback is to be able to process information quickly, make a decision, throw the ball accurately in the passing game, and I think the biggest thing is to be able to manage and get us in the right plays when we’re sort of running the ball. Whoever can do that on the most consistent basis and have the kind of leadership to affect the people on offense around them is the guy that will probably have the best possibility to win the job.”
The quarterback battle is on, and fans are left to debate who will win that starting role. In most situations where a team has a position to fill, there will be at least a front runner or two. But in this battle, a leader hasn’t emerged. Speculations and rumors continue to grow, but the fact is that we simply don’t know.
Can anyone fill the shoes of AJ McCarron? All have strength and weaknesses, but who will ultimately prove worthy to take the reigns as the quarterback for the Crimson Tide?
Blake Sims is the only QB on the roster that has completed a pass under Saban’s offense, making him the most logical choice as the starter. As a senior and the backup for McCarron last year, he definitely has an advantage over the rest. His biggest asset: his mobility. In his collegiate career (2011- 2013), Sims ran the ball 67 times for 355 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. With incredible talent at the running back position and a quick-footed QB, the Crimson Tide will have no problem with the rushing attack.
However, his passing abilities are questionable. In 23 games, he completed just 23 of 39 passes for 244 yards. Although he threw for two touchdowns, those came against inferior opponents in Colorado State and Georgia State last season. With stout defenses like LSU in the SEC, Sims will have to depend on more than his legs to win games. Hopefully, his accuracy has improved over the off-season. If not, Sims may start on A-Day, but another contender will prove to be a better fit.
Possibly Jacob Coker.
This is the favorite for many knowledgeable football minds out there, including Barrett Sallee, writer for the Bleacher Report. In his article (addressing my tweet), he had this to say:
“Head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin wouldn’t bring in a two-year graduate transfer at quarterback if they didn’t think he’d have a legitimate shot at winning the job. Coker has attributes that are attractive, including his 6’5″, 230-pound frame and big arm.”
Besides his large physique, Coker is rumored to have one of the best arms in college football. FSU QB Coach Randy Sanders says, “…Jake’s probably the best I’ve seen in 25 years at throwing it.”
While a compliment like that is uplifting for Tide fans, it remains to be seen if Coker can actually lead a team like Alabama to a victorious season. Following behind EJ Manual and Jameis Winston, Coker never won the starting position at Florida State. His statistics as a backup aren’t as impressive as the reputation that precedes him. Does he have the talent? Yes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will transfer onto the field come game day. In May, Coker will make his way to Alabama after graduating from FSU with two years left of eligibility. Some are concerned that three months may not be enough time for him to learn Saban’s system. Others are worried about his meniscus surgery last November, and if he will be physically ready for the season.
Coker has a long road ahead of him. But if he has what it takes to earn the job, he’ll be on the field against West Virginia.
If not, there are a few others waiting for their opportunity.
The most experienced of these is redshirt sophomore Alec Morris. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, his stature is ideal for a pro-style offense. His collegiate career has consisted of sitting behind McCarron and Sims as the third string QB.
Cooper Bateman is a redshirt freshman coming into 2014. According to Andrew Kuhla, “Bateman is a quarterback with big stature (6’3”, 195 pounds), a huge arm and a beautiful throw.”
Definitely not someone to count out, he could be a strong possibility if he develops his skills to meet Saban’s criteria.
Parker McLeod, a redshirt freshman, is a relatively unknown contender. Good enough to grab the attention from the Alabama coaching staff, McLeod will really have to show what he can do this summer. It’s not in Saban’s nature to start a freshman, but at this point, anything can happen.
Finishing the list of potential leaders is David Cornwell, the true freshman. Despite a knee injury that cut his senior season short, he has everything it takes to be a strong force in this race. Not only does he have the physical ability, he also has the strength and maturity to make him an ideal team leader. Although he’s been through some hard times, he still has the will to learn and succeed.
When A-Day arrives, I expect to see Sims and Bateman taking big roles on the field as the front-runners. In May, Coker comes to Tuscaloosa and the QB battle will heat up. But until then…
Let the competition begin.