Preview of Alabama’s Quarterback Race Going into Spring Practice
The biggest questions of the off-season can be answered during spring practice, and Alabama is one of many teams with multiple voids to fill. One particular position of concern for the Crimson Tide is replacing quarterback AJ McCarron, who won two national championships as a starter. McCarron exits as the winningest quarterback in school history, a feat that looks quite impressive compared to quarterbacks such as Joe Namath, Bart Starr, and Kenny Stabler.
There is plenty of buzz around Tuscaloosa regarding the vacant quarterback position. The hiring of Lane Kiffin at offensive coordinator makes things all the more intriguing. Is Florida State transfer Jacob Coker a lock for the starting job? Will dual threat quarterback Blake Sims rise to the occasion? Can Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman, and Parker McLeod win the coveted role? What are the chances that early enrollee David Cornwell starts as a true freshman? Opinions may vary, but the final verdict should not be revealed until the start of the 2014 season.
Here is a look at what Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin are working with heading into spring practice:
The early favorite to replace McCarron is Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. The 6'5", 230-pound quarterback is expected to graduate in May, giving him two years of eligibility for Alabama but does not allow him to participate this spring. Like McCarron, Coker is a graduate of St. Paul's in Mobile, Alabama.
The Seminoles redshirted Coker in his first season and he saw minimal playing time as a redshirt freshman. He battled freshman phenom and eventual Heisman winner Jameis Winston for the starting job last spring. A torn meniscus suffered against Wake Forest on November 9th ended his 2013 season prematurely.
Although the knee injury is a concern, Coker should be ready to compete in the fall. Florida State QB coach Randy Sanders, when speaking of Jacob Coker, said, "I've never had anybody with his size who throws it as well as he does."
Coker will face plenty of competition this off-season, but he has all the mechanics to be the next great quarterback for the Crimson Tide.
Blake Sims has played second fiddle to AJ McCarron for the last two years following his transition from running back to quarterback at the start of the 2012 season. Sims is best known for running read option plays in games that had already gotten out of hand, but he is arguably the most athletic player in this quarterback race.
Sims may not be the best player statistically, but he has not received the credit that is due to him. Competing to be the starting quarterback at Alabama is no easy task. Many back up quarterbacks decided to transfer such as Star Jackson, Phillip Sims, Phillip Ely, and, more recently, Luke Del Rio. Sims has been relentless in his effort to get more playing time, and having the most experience of all quarterbacks on campus gives him the upper hand in the early stages of this quarterback race.
Saban has yet to have a dual-threat quarterback like Sims as a starter during his tenure at Alabama, but a new year and a new offensive coordinator brings new possibilities to the program.
Alec Morris enters spring practice as one of the younger guys in this race. The Allen, Texas native has limited action in college, but his high school statistics reflect the skills he has quarterback. In his senior year, he threw for over 3,000 yards and 35 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions. It is also worth mentioning that he picked up an extra nine touchdowns rushing.
The touchdown to interception ratio Morris had in high school shows he has great accuracy, a talent that should impress Saban and Kiffin. Greg McElroy started a trend in 2009 of Alabama quarterbacks that throw very few interceptions. That trend can continue if Morris becomes the starter. He fits the mold for the ideal pro-style quarterback in Alabama's offensive scheme which gives him a great opportunity to try to win the job this spring.
Cooper Bateman is one of the best all-around, pro-style quarterbacks in this competition. Bateman, like Morris, is one of the younger quarterbacks battling for the starting job after being redshirted his freshman year. He is built for Alabama's offense standing at 6'3" and weighing 208 pounds. He was a highly recruited quarterback out of Salt Lake City, Utah and finished his senior year as the number one player in the state.
Bateman was regarded as one of the top candidates to succeed McCarron before the recruitment of Jacob Coker and David Cornwell. If there is one thing you can take away from spring practice it is that this contest is up for grabs to anyone, including Bateman. He is football savvy and his ability to run for the first down is one of his strong traits. He has all the talent needed to be a quarterback in the SEC.
David Cornwell is the only true freshman in contention to be the 2014 starter. He will participate in spring training because he enrolled in January. His senior year was cut short due to a torn ACL. Originally this injury caused speculation into rather or not he could compete, but he is ahead of schedule in rehab and is ready to play. Expectations are already high for Cornwell because he is the most recent top high school quarterback to make his way to Tuscaloosa.
Cornwell and Coker are the two biggest quarterbacks Alabama has to offer. Both have a similar build to McCarron, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are the two favorites. Cornwell has similar attributes to the other candidates, but he also has the most to prove being the youngest. He will have to be very impressive to beat out these other quarterbacks and start as a true freshman, but there is no doubt that Saban will put the best talent on the field.
Parker McLeod chose Alabama over Oklahoma State, Louisville, and Maryland despite knowing he would face tough competition when he arrived. McLeod is the dark horse contender out of the six that are striving to get the first snap against West Virginia on August 30th. The redshirt freshman needs to add a little weight, but McLeod has similar traits to McCarron, who also came into Tuscaloosa a little thin.
McLeod has been able to display his skills first hand since since he arrived to campus. He has great accuracy, and his lack of size is often overlooked by his great athleticism. Cornwell has the most to prove to the coaches, but McLeod has the most to prove for the ones on the outside looking in. High school stats are not always the most important thing to evaluate with the younger guys, but he can put his up against anyone else in this group. McLeod is the true underdog in the pursuit to fill the shoes McCarron left behind.