Tide Likely Wins At Quarterback

Coaches who examine every aspect of an incoming player look apprehensively at how he will fit into the system, what he can bring to the team, and when that contribution might begin. The player, almost always, believes that he will be a star, and move from his college to the NFL. Fans, for the most part, believe that the coaches have chosen well and are at least as optimistic as the player.



Over the many years I have watched new classes of prospects enter The University of Alabama, I have had the highest of expectations for them all, particularly after seeing them. In my first 35 years or so of covering Crimson Tide football, I was fortunate enough to see those players in their first Bama practices.







I saw David Palmer the first day he arrived in the summer before his freshman year in 1991. He was lost and I showed him how to get to the equipment room. Shortly after, he was on the practice field, making amazing catches. Hootie Ingram, who was the Alabama athletics director at the time, wandered out to where players were doing their pass skels. After watching a few minutes, Ingram said, "He's amazing. He throws the ball back after catching the ball, and the pass he throws back is better than the one that was thrown to him."

After the workout I asked quarterback Jay Barker – who had been throwing those passes to Palmer -- what he thought. "Can you believe that guy?" Barker said.

In his first practice in 1985, I thought Bobby Humphrey was as good as I had ever seen. He didn't disappoint.

But I'm not always right. I watched Mike Raines, a defensive tackle, in his freshman year and thought he would wash out quickly. He turned into a star. Years later I confessed my poor evaluation to a man who had been a coach on that team. He told me he thought the same thing I did.

There has been great excitement over incoming players for as long as players have been coming in.

It may be the greatest is for a quarterback who couldn't win the job at another college and is transferring into Alabama with two years of eligibility, provided things go right academically this spring.

The rumor has been out there for months, and this week Jacob Coker confirmed to Scout.com's John Garcia, Jr., that this spring he will finish his undergraduate work at Florida State – where he was the back-up to Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston – and then join the Crimson Tide.

Coker, 6-5, 232, is not your average back-up quarterback. Those who evaluate football talent for a living believe he has an extraordinary upside. With Alabama losing three-year starter A.J. McCarron, the quarterback race at Bama is wide open.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban announced Sunday that Coker has signed with the Crimson Tide and projects to be eligible to play this fall. Coker is expected to enroll at Alabama this summer after he completes his undergraduate degree at Florida State.

"We think a lot of Jake and we are excited to have him join our team," said Saban. "He is not only an outstanding football player, but he is also a fine young man who we feel will be a great fit with our program at Alabama."

Coker played in seven games last year at FSU as the back-up to Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. He saw action in four games as in 2012 and redshirted in 2011. Coker originally signed with FSU after leading St. Paul's Episcopal to the state playoffs and a 10-2 record as a senior. He was also a standout basketball player who earned all-state recognition, averaging 21.9 points per game as a senior.

"I was very impressed with everything on my visit to Tuscaloosa," said Coker. "I feel very comfortable with the coaches and the players, and I'm looking forward to getting started at Alabama and competing. I also want to thank my coaches and teammates at Florida State. I had a great experience there and I'm excited to build on that at Alabama."

Five of the contenders with Coker at Alabama will take part in spring practice. They include McCarron's back-up the past two years, Blake Sims. Alabama Coach Nick Saban said late in the 2013 season that Sims would not automatically ascend to the number one position, but he has to be considered the spring favorite.

The others in contention will be upcoming third-year sophomore Alec Morris (6-3, 230); two redshirt freshmen who will be going through their second spring practices at Bama, Cooper Bateman (6-3, 208) and Parker McLeod (6-3, 198); and incoming freshman this spring David Cornwell (6-5, 230).

Coker may have already had an effect on the Alabama quarterback race. In something of a surprise, Luke Del Rio, also a redshirt freshman who had gone through spring practice last year and who had been pronounced by Saban as number three behind McCarron and Sims last fall, has elected to transfer to Oregon State. And a prized Alabama commitment for 2015, Ricky Town, has switched his pledge to USC. To be sure, there may have been factors other than Coker.

So how does the Coker announcement affect Alabama quarterbacks this spring?

Don't expect any of the contenders to give up. They know about Coker, but none of them would be at Alabama if they didn't think they could do the job. Competition in the spring will be intense, and there's no way to judge if it will be moreso because the candidates are looking over their shoulders at Jacob Coker. But it won't be any less.

It is never a surprise when the quarterback race goes down to the wire. In 2011, McCarron beat out Philip Sims for the starting job in the opener against Kent State, but didn't really nail down the job until the next week in a 27-11 win over Penn State at State College.

Coker doesn't have the advantage of a spring in Tuscaloosa, but he has been a college quarterback for three years at FSU. He also is an Alabama native, interestingly having replaced McCarron as the quarterback at St. Paul's Episcopal in 2009.

Coker also has the experience of battling to the end for the starting job. Winston was awarded the No. 1 position at FSU in late August last year.

Many are ready to award the starting quarterback spot to Coker before has taken a snap at Alabama, and that may well be the case. But those others in camp this spring and through the summer workouts and into fall camp beginning August will be in the battle. No doubt, there will be great excitement – and anticipation – regarding the competion.

It should prove to be a winning situation for the Crimson Tide.

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