Alabama has five quarterbacks on the roster, but only one has real experience entering 2015
[table id=1 /]
Alabama entered the 2014 football season with a battle for the quarterback position. It boiled down to senior Blake Sims against FSU transfer Jacob Coker. It was close going during Fall Camp, but Blake Sims resiliency through the good and bad of fall scrimmages earned him the nod. And wow, what Blake Sims did for Alabama fans. Sims posted a quarterback efficiency rating of 157.9 by going 252-391 for 3,487 yard with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Sure, it seemed like half those interceptions came against Auburn, but it was Sims pluck and grit that saw him battle through the rough patch and destroy Auburn’s season in spectacular fashion with absolute pinpoint deep touchdown strikes to Amari Cooper.
Alabama enters 2015 with a similar battle for the quarterback slot. However, this time, the roles are different. Jacob Coker is the incumbent with experience playing for Alabama.
[table id=2 /]
While Blake Sims eclipsed Coker during the 2014 season and earned the starting job outright, Coker did many things right as he worked to continue learning the offense. Coker brings a lot of physical talent to the position with a big frame and a big arm to match. If there seemed to be one drawback to his limited play in 2014 was what seemed like a long delivery time on some routes.
One big positive was Jacob Coker’s play in the Florida game. Coker came in for an injured Sims and earned some praise from Alabama football coach Nick Saban. “I thought Jake [Coker] did a great job when Blake got hurt and he went in there,” Saban said following Alabama’s big win over Florida. “He finished the drive and ended up scoring a touchdown on that drive, which was at a critical time in the game as well.”
That kind of experience in crunch time of an SEC game is a big plus for those handicapping the Alabama quarterback race. There simply is no way to replicate the pace and adrenaline of an SEC game. Coker entered the game in the third quarter with Alabama nursing a 28-21 lead over Will Muschamp and his Florida defense. Coker handed the ball off to Derrick Henry a couple of times for gains of 25 yards and 13 yards, and tossed it to TJ Yeldon for a 10 yard rush and no gain. So, on third and goal from the four, Coker fired a touchdown pass into traffic that was hauled in by Amari Cooper. The score put Alabama up 35-21. His stats were only 1 for 2 and 1 touchdown, but it was a critical time in the game.
While it is too early to anoint Jacob Coker as Alabama’s 2015 starting quarterback, it is reasonable to analyze the situation and declare that Coker is the heir presumptive. (For those who understand the difference between heir apparent–someone at the top of the line of succession–it is clear that heir presumptive would be the best description of Coker since he can always be bumped down the depth chart in favor of someone who works harder.) Coker is the clear favorite entering Spring Practice. Of course, Nick Saban is famous for pointing out that every job is open for competition, but that would likely mean a serious regression for Coker and that seems implausible based on his progression during 2014.
In a season ending review of 2014, 247Sports pointed out that Cooper Bateman was an unsung hero of the season because of his contributions to Alabama’s special teams and contributions to Alabama’s preparation for dual-threat quarterbacks.
However, take a good look at Cooper Bateman’s stats page over at ESPN.
Cooper Bateman has thrown 0 passes at Alabama. He spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons on campus in Tuscaloosa and gaining experience with Alabama’s offensive system, but the lack of play against SEC defenses is a real concern entering 2015.
Bateman was able to put up stats in Alabama’s 2014 spring scrimmages. In the April 12 scrimmage, Bateman was 16 of 31 for 160 yards and two touchdowns. In the A-Day game, Bateman posted 11 of 24 for 156 yards and one touchdown as quarterback for the White team.
Bateman had a very strong Spring Practice last year, but he was not able to supplant Blake Sims and fell behind Coker once Fall Camp began in 2014. His physical skills are very good and it made him a very highly desired quarterback when he signed with Alabama. Clearly, his stats in last year’s scrimmages show he can move the ball, but as Spring Practice 2015 begins, Bateman must be considered behind Coker in likelihood to play.
Junior Alec Morris saw some playing time in 2013 and 2014 after redshirting in 2012 when he was on the scout team. In 2013, his action was limited to one game, but in 2014 his action included some mop-up duty with no passes thrown. His only stat on the stat’s page was 1 solo tackle in 2012. Morris was clearly behind Bateman and Sims last year during Spring Practice, but he is a talented player and at the quarterback position time in a system is very important to grasping the nuances of executing plays under pressure.
David Cornwell signed with Alabama in 2014 and enrolled early to get more experience with the Alabama system. Cornwell enters his second year in Tuscaloosa after having redshirted last year. Cornwell spent most of his time recovering from a knee injury suffered in high school. Cornwell’s size is a big asset playing in Alabama’s pro-style offense.
Cornwell is the most likely to challenge Coker during this year’s spring drills. While his exposure was limited last year, he possesses excellent skills throwing the football. As a high school senior, Cornwell was an ESPNU 300 player and rated a four-star by other services.
A key to judging Cornwell’s chances is really a judgment about his attitude and work ethic. One great quote from Cornwell was provided by Marq Burnett in the Ledger-Enquirer,
“I’m there to compete everyday with all the quarterbacks,” Cornwell said. “But getting better each day is my priority, not worrying about the spot, the No. 2 spot, No. 3 or anything. I’m just here to get better as a quarterback because even if you get the job here, you’re going to have to beat someone out in the (NFL) draft or even in life. I’m just keeping my head down, working to be the best quarterback I can be and seeing where it takes me.”
True freshman Blake Barnett is expected to be in the mix for Alabama’s starting quarterback job in 2015. Barnett was a five-star prospect and considered the second best pro-style quarterback by 247 Sports. Barnett was the MVP of the Elite 11 Quarterback Competition. As a senior he threw for over 3,000 yards in 11 games.
Barnett enrolled in classes in January and is available to participate in Spring Practice 2015. There is no doubt that being enrolled now helps Barnett get up to speed on Alabama and Lane Kiffin faster and should pay dividends by the time Fall Camp arrives. However, it will be very hard for a true freshman to compete for the starting job with so many talented quarterbacks with more experience in Alabama’s system in the competition. While Barnett brings amazing skills that were showcased in high school and recruiting camps, it takes time to digest the college playbook and way of doing things.
Of course, these days quarterbacks arrive at college with a far more advanced way of doing things than just a few years ago. This is just one step in the offensive evolution of football. Barnett has a chance because of his skills, but it really comes down to how hard he works during these first months on campus that will determine where he ranks on the depth chart.
Spring 2015 Alabama Quarterback Depth Chart Forecast
Always remember that Alabama football Coach Nick Saban keeps the competition open. With so much talent in Tuscaloosa, nobody is ever really safe if they become complacent. Anyone can plummet with a bad attitude, so keep in mind that stats and experience only count for so much in Saban’s world. However, while Saban hates forecasts and depth chart analysis, fans should read between the lines and apply basic football logic to the question. Keeping that in mind, the forecast for Alabama’s quarterback situation as we enter Spring 2015 is:
1. Jacob Coker
2. David Cornwell
3. Cooper Bateman
4. Alec Morris
5. Blake Barnett
By the end of Spring 2015 expect Barnett to soar a higher and be a real force in the 2016 quarterback competition.
Now, that you’ve reached the end of this analysis, be sure to share your comments about the quarterback situation. What do you think Saban views as the most important thing for a quarterback to bring to the table? Also, if you are wondering how I’ve made out in the past predicting who would win the starting job at Alabama, I wrote this in 2011: “That means Phillip Sims is the likely choice to get the bulk of playing time in 2011 for the Alabama Crimson Tide.” AJ McCarron went on to post a very impressive record of championships at Alabama’s starting quarterback. And he got a hot wife in the process too.