Even though it was not expected that Alabama Coach Nick Saban would settle the matter on the day when he revealed the pre-season depth chart, quarterback was still the primary conversation topic Monday.
As expected, the depth chart showed senior Blake Sims and junior Jake Coker both on the first unit as the Crimson Tide prepares for its season-opening game against West Virginia at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Saturday.
“Obviously, somebody has to start the game,” Saban said. And he added the obvious, that a decision as to which man starts would be made “probably at some point this week.”
Saban said, “We’re going to continue to rep both guys. We feel like both guys have been doing a very, very good job. We’re going to try to develop both of those players.”
Asked if having two quarterbacks means the glass if half full or half empty, Saban said he would say “half full, because you could say both guys are playing really, really well and it’s hard to choose.
“I do think competition is something that helps all players at any position. I think the one unique thing about the quarterback is you definitely like to get the rest of the offensive team sort of in sync with the guy that plays that position.
“To me, there's a big upside that two guys are competing. We feel both are doing well. Then the other side of that is the continuity of what you're trying to create with the rest of your team is something you'd like to have a guy that steps forward and takes the leadership role and game management part of it that makes all the other players on offense comfortable and what they're expected to do.”
An interesting sidebar is how much of a role Saban will take in handling the quarterback during the game, particularly since Bama has a new quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in Lane Kiffin.
Saban said, “I think what I always try to do with the offensive side of it ... we tried to make some changes systematically that would help us improve, maybe some of the multiples we present offensively in terms of what the defense has to defend. Sort of put a little asterisk by that, 'but it's got to fit in with what the players can do.' Especially with new quarterbacks, we don't want to overload what they have to do in terms of their ability to execute, especially right now at this point of the season.
“My thing has always been that as a play-caller, you have to let the guy have the rhythm of what he's trying to do. I'd rather make my suggestions between the series. In other words, not while we have the ball.”
Saban gave examples of what he might say to his offensive coordinator when the Tide is on defense. He said he might remind the play-caller of things that had been planned against certain defenses, or suggest “the next time we get the ball in good field position, let’s take a shot.”
He said that is preferable than getting “in the way of the signal-caller while he’s trying to call the game and have a rhythm of how he calls the game.
“I know that's putting a lot of trust in another person, but that's been the most effective way for me through the years as a head coach because I think you can really mess a guy up if you're always questioning what he does.”
Similarly, Saban pointed out that when he’s coaching cornerbacks in practice, “I get on those corners when they get a ball thrown over their heads. But I’m over their rubbing their necks in the game, so they don’t throw it over their heads again.
“When the game comes, man, you've got to go with what you got and try to get them to do it the best they can.
“Play-callers have to be confident.”
Like most teams, Alabama starts the game with a script of plays. He said the script is developed in practice and everyone understands the reason why each play is in the script. “So,” he said, “we’re all committed to it and we're all trying to do it and we're all trying to support each other in the end.”
Although it is dangerous to read too much into what Saban says on Monday for a Saturday game, there was a hint that Sims – a fifth-year senior who was back-up to McCarron prior to this year – might be a bit ahead of Coker, who transferred to Alabama this summer after earning his degree at Florida State, where he was the back-up to Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.
Saban said, “I think both guys have done a really good job and I think that Blake has a lot more familiarity with the system, having been here longer. I think he's more comfortable in doing the things that we do and has done a really good job. Has played really, really well in this fall camp, has played well in the scrimmages. The team has had a good rhythm when he's in there at quarterback.
“Jacob is obviously the newer guy of the two, who doesn't have the same knowledge and experience. I think we're just trying to get him more and more familiar so that he play with the rhythm that we need to play with offensively. I just think it's about confidence. It's kind of an interesting thing.
“A player has to be able to develop knowledge and understanding of what he's supposed to do for him to really have confidence in doing it.
“Young players struggle with this and somebody at the quarterback position who is in a new system, terminology and all that, that's got to be a bit of a factor.”
Saban said there was no specific plan to play both quarterbacks Saturday. “But that doesn’t mean whatever pitcher starts the game is necessarily going to pitch nine innings.”
In fact, Saban wouldn’t even commit to both Sims and Coker playing in the first game. “That decision has not been made yet,” he said.