The QB situation at Alabama; what does it mean at this point?
(An analysis by The Conduit)
First things first, Blake Sims is the starting quarterback at Alabama.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at the media. Most outlets seem to think it’s a crisis of biblical proportions in Tuscaloosa, the most epic controversy of the season so far, spearheaded by a lost offensive identity under Alabama’s new offensive coordinator, the ever-controversial Lane Kiffin.
I digress. Blake Sims is the starting quarterback at Alabama. It hasn’t been officially announced yet and likely won’t be until Florida parks its bus in Tuscaloosa, but there it is. Jacob Coker is a great talent, as are Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell. Alabama may have more depth at quarterback than I can ever remember, but Saban doesn’t run a two-quarterback scheme, and for 2014 Blake Sims is the starting QB.
The alleged battle between Jacob Coker and Blake Sims has been anything but. For starters, Blake Sims has had good relationships with the entire football team and, believe it or not, that includes Jacob Coker. They’re friends. They’re teammates. The “controversy” hasn’t seemed to affect either one of them personally, at least not during game time or from anything I’ve heard off the field. Instead of being a destructive, dramatic battle for glory, it’s been a competitive learning experience for everyone involved, not limited to the quarterbacks themselves.
That’s the opposite of what’s happening right now in Clemson. If you want a quarterback controversy, look no further.
Clemson lost to a very good Georgia team in Athens in week one. A senior QB, Stoudt, was (and still is) the starting QB. A brand new 5-star QB, Watson, played in the same game. Both scored touchdowns. Both looked good, albeit the younger, less-experienced QB seemed to have more natural talent. Sound familiar, Alabama fans?
While Clemson fans traditionally respond poorly to any loss, it’s absurd when a head coach has to address what the fans want, which is exactly what Dabo Swinney had to do at a recent media event, even after the smashing 73-3 win over SC State. “KEEP CALM AND START WATSON” t-shirts have flooded the upstate in South Carolina. I’m sure there are plenty of fans who are nervous about Sims winning the job over Coker, but Alabama doesn’t have an internal culture war over it regardless.
Second, the Alabama quarterbacks have learned from each other in an understated benefit.
Lane Kiffin’s offensive playbook hasn’t redefined Alabama’s offense, albeit we’ve only seen a small part of it so far, but both quarterbacks have had to learn it and adjust to it. Having Kiffin on the sideline for the second week in a row to directly communicate with the QB’s is just as understated. Frankly, I think it’s genius. Coker has a faster arm that can throw further, but his throws were often misplaced, either by misjudgment or errors in technique. He made some critical clock management errors and mental mistakes, albeit those are fixable with the right coaching (Roll Tide).
Even balls that were on the mark were difficult to catch; I didn’t expect Cooper to drop as many accurate passes as he did last Saturday, but they were thrown at a different speed than Sims. Remember, it’s not simply the QB that has to adjust…it’s the TE’s, WR’s, the o-line, and even the way the plays are called from the sidelines. All of those things are working better with Sims than with Coker. Coker will get better, just as Sims has since we saw him play as McCarron’s backup, but while it might appear time isn’t on Coker’s side, it’s still a best-case scenario. It’s hard to imagine how differently Blake Sims would be now without the in-game experience he got in 2013 as McCarron’s backup, but it’s impossible to accept he’d be better today without it. That’s what Coker’s getting now, and we’ll take as much as he can get.
Third, depth is everything.
When it comes to talent, for the past several years Alabama has had more depth than the Mariana Trench…just not at quarterback.
Until now, that is.
For all the talk the past month over Alabama’s quarterback controversy, it’s only going to be worse in 2015 and 2016. Cornwell, Bateman, they also came to Alabama to compete. Blake Barnett is a prototypical superstar QB, the #1 of his kind in his graduating class, and somehow (i.e., Lane Kiffin) Alabama got him to commit from California.
Don’t start with the “but Barnett was an Oregon commit and he’ll decommit from Alabama too” argument. It might be right and Barnett might sign elsewhere (although I strongly doubt it), but the point is that Alabama does have real QB depth and that’s going to be a bigger controversy in the future. AJ McCarron was holding snaps for kicks virtually his entire career, but this year we’ve already seen QB’s behind both Sims and Coker on the depth chart taking snaps. First-world problems, and not a cornerback in sight on the QB depth chart.
Again, I digress; all that talent means a certain level of attrition. Somebody is going to leave Alabama to start at QB somewhere else after 2014. There’s the controversy, and we might even see some of it before the end of 2014. Alabama will deal with that when the time comes, but for now, the Crimson Tide essentially gets to train Coker to be the backup QB most teams simply don’t have.
Case in point, when Johnny Manziel got hurt in 2013 there sure wasn’t a lot of talk about Joeckel and Hill competing for the position or helping lead the Aggies to success, which neither one was able to do. Yet in week one of the 2014 season against South Carolina, Kenny Hill became TAMU’s salvation, an immediate Heisman candidate and de facto social media darling. Yay. Memories in college football are short, and having a quarterback with legitimate talent and in-game experience can be a critical factor in the event of injury. Blake Sims by his very nature will put himself at risk for injury more than most quarterbacks, and having Coker ready to play isn’t controversial; it’s intelligent.
With all that said, I don’t know what Alabama will do the rest of 2014. Sims will almost certainly be the QB, barring injury, but I’m not sure yet if Alabama will be championship-caliber every weekend.
What I think is much more likely is that both 2015 and 2016 will have much more significant “controversy” at QB, and Alabama will also be a more dominant competitor in those seasons, if not completely unstoppable. This season might surprise everyone, but the future from a depth and positional recruiting standpoint has a higher ceiling, and that absolutely includes Jacob Coker.