It takes two to win in the SEC

Between redshirting and then running a distant third at quarterback last year, Spencer Pennington's first two seasons at Alabama have had their share of struggles. But recently things have taken a turn. <br><br>"I tell you what;" Penning said following Saturday's scrimmage, "I'm having the best time I've ever had playing college football right now."

"This is great," he continued. "I'm really enjoying this new coaching staff. Just being out here is a lot of fun."

Heading into spring drills Brodie Croyle was a solid No. 1, and he has held onto that ranking. But the coaches knew that it takes at least two good quarterbacks to win in the SEC, and Pennington's play has been welcome. "He can definitely be that second guy," Quarterbacks Coach Aaron Price said. "He can play college football, and he can win. He can be a guy we can count on in the future.

So far Mike Price likes what he's seen from his sophomore QB.

"That's definitely one thing we've gotten out of this spring, knowing that Spencer can play."

Like the rest of the Tide players, Pennington admits to being tentative at the start of spring drills. But he's gotten better every day. "I think I've progressed a lot in this offense," Pennington said. "Just being able to spend time at the chalkboard with Coach AP (Aaron Price), having a lot of chances to go over the schemes. Then getting out on the practice field for reps has gotten the team together. We've got a lot of talent on this team. We've just got to come together."

Mike Price shares responsibility with son Aaron for coaching the Tide quarterbacks. And Pennington has also impressed the Bama head coach. "We needed him to step up, and he proved he can play," Mike Price said. "I like Spencer. He's got a strong arm and he's good in the huddle."

Playing behind Tyler Watts and Brodie Croyle last year, Pennington saw only spot duty in six games. Price and his offensive staff had to dig up film of Bama's junior varsity game against Georgia Military to see what they had. Mike Price explained, "We had to look at the tape of the JV game last year to see what Spencer could do. We had a JUCO quarterback all lined up to sign, but after we saw that tape we said why sign him. We saw that Spencer could do the job."

In high school Pennington led his Fayette County team to the state championship, passing for 2,433 yards and 20 touchdowns. Physically and experience-wise, Pennington thinks the new offense is tailor made for his skills. "In high school this is what we ran all the time," he explained. "I feel more comfortable in this offense. In the past Coach Price has had big, strong quarterbacks, but it'll come down to who can move the chains 10 yards at a time."

Pennington has played well in the last two scrimmages. He was 9-of-15 for 110 yards and a touchdown two weeks ago, and last Saturday the sophomore was 11-of-22 for 144 yards. He had one touchdown and two interceptions, but afterwards Mike Price didn't blame Pennington at all.

Spencer Pennington calls the signals at the line of scrimmage. Mike Price has praised Pennington's poise on the field and in the huddle.

"In (last) Saturday's scrimmage I thought Spencer played as well as he has this spring," Mike Price said. "He had some balls that were dropped. His receivers are a little younger than the ones running with the first unit. Spencer is competing for the job, there's no question. He probably played better than Brodie did (last) Saturday."

Croyle's experience and extremely strong arm give him the edge, but Pennington knows it takes more than one quarterback to win at this level. "I think we've got that," Pennington said. "Brodie is doing a great job, and I'm trying to get better every day as well. I think we've got two pretty good quarterbacks.

"Actually we've got a lot of good talent at quarterback. Brandon Avalos was in Florida playing baseball (Saturday). No position is given. You've got to take it if you want it."

Pennington's position coach agrees. "Spencer is doing well," Aaron Price said. "Every time I look out there--even when I see him make a mistake--it's not a fundamental mistake. He's learning and getting the reps and the experience of playing. He hasn't played a whole lot in the last two years. That's what happens when you get redshirted and get behind another kid your age. You just don't get as many reps in the heat of the battle."

As his repetitions have increased, Pennington's confidence has soared. He explained, "When you first get out here in the spring with a new coaching staff and a new offense, you don't know what's going on. Brodie and I have been working real hard to get this offense down. Both of us have gained confidence in all our guys and in our offensive linemen."

Like Croyle, Pennington really enjoys Bama's new down-the-field passing attack. "I've never been in an offense where they tell you the first read is the end zone," he said. "That's where we look every time. First you look and see where the safeties are. We always have a receiver going toward the end zone. That's the first read; then we check down to the shorter routes.

In Pennington, the Tide coaches believe they've found a second quarterback capable of winning in the SEC.

"It's a big-play offense. You've got to have people that can throw it and catch the ball."

After looking long, Pennington has impressed the Tide coaches with his ability to spot the open man across the middle and deliver a strike. "The long routes aren't always going to be here, especially on the SEC level," he related. "You're going to have to throw under routes. I've tried to do that, and we've had pretty good success at it."

Challenged by his head coach to continue working on his own following spring practice, Pennington already knows how he'll spend his time this summer. "Those (voluntary workouts) will definitely be a priority," he acknowledged. "This summer we're going to be out here. Brodie and I will get two lines going. We'll have the receivers running routes against the DBs so we can work on our timing. You want to get ready to play Oklahoma the second week of the season."

A key goal of spring was to identify two quarterbacks capable of playing winning SEC football. Mission accomplished.

"I've been really pleased with what Spencer has done," Aaron Price said. "He's definitely a guy that can win for us here. It's certainly a great relief off our shoulders, knowing that we have two (quarterbacks) that can play at this level."


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