It Looks As Though QB Competition Is Over

Has Jacob Coker’s chance to be Alabama’s starter passed? It was hard to interpret Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban’s latest quarterback pronouncement as anything other than “the job belongs to Blake Sims.”

In 2011 there was some question as to which man would succceed Greg McElroy as Alabama quarterback. Sophomore A.J. McCarron emerged as number one over redshirt freshman Phillip Sims. It took just one game of competition for McCarron to win the job and McCarron went on to an excellent three-year career.

With the end of the McCarron era at the conclusion of the 2013 season, Alabama had a handful of inexperienced candidates for the job. The most experienced was Blake Sims, who had been McCarron’s mop-up man the last two years.

Sims came to Bama in 2010 from Gainesville, Ga., and was slotted as a tailback. After a redshirt year he became something of a wildcat specialist with 22 rushes for 107 yards. He did not throw a pass.

Over the past two years as back-up quarterback, Sims completed 23-39 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns and increased his rushing total to 67 carries for 355 yards and two touchdowns.

It was no great surprise when word leaked last fall that Alabama would get a transfer from Florida State in Jacob Coker, who had played at the same St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile as had McCarron.

At FSU, Coker was said to have battled Jameis Winston down to the wire for the 2013 starting job. Winston won the job and went on to win the Heisman Trophy and lead the Seminoles to the national championship last year. FSU Coach Jimbo Fisher declared that Coker would be the best quarterback in Nick Saban’s Alabama career.

(On an unrelated note, would there be a PA announcement tomorrow night in Tallahassee, “and the starting quarterback against Clemson is Jake Coker,” as Winston sits out half a game for the latest in his knucklehead career?)

Coker did not have particularly glittering statistics from FSU, playing in seven games and completing 18-36 passes for 250 yards last year and four games in 2012 with 3-5 for 45 yards.

Coker earned his degree from FSU in the spring and transferred to Alabama for summer off-season workouts.

Almost no one thought Coker had been brought to Alabama to be anything but Alabama’s starting quarterback.

But Sims started Bama’s opener against West Virginia. And he started against Florida Atlantic and against Southern Miss as second-ranked Alabama opened the season 3-0.

And Wednesday evening when Saban was asked about the quarterback rotation plans for this week, he measured his words carefully.

“We’re going to play Blake,” he said. “We’ll always evaluate and see how it goes. We’ve got a lot of confidence in Jake. If we need to play Jake, we’ll certainly have no problem putting him in there and allowing him to play.”

If.

Alabama starts Southeastern Conference play Saturday and the level of competition has ramped up. The Crimson Tide hosts the Florida Gators. Kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT with television coverage by CBS.

No one who has watched the quarterback compeitition would conclude that Sims is not Alabama’s QB.

Sims is 38-64-1 (75 per cent) for 646 yards and four touchdowns. Sims has also run 14 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns.

Coker is 20-31 (64.5 per cent) for 248 yards and one touchdown. Coker has six carries for 17 yards, including a memorable run in which he took on the defenders near the goalline rather than sliding or getting out of bounds.

In fact, the competition seemed to be over after the first game.

Has Saban kept the quarterback race open by design?

One thinks of an Alabama quarterback under Saban as a pro-type quarterback, which is not Sims. Sims is 6-0, 208. Coker fits the eye test, 6-5, 230.

There was the general belief that Alabama would not have signed a transfer quarterback unless it was to be the starter. For his part, Coker could have gone to any number of schools to be the starter or he could have stayed at FSU to sit on the bench.

To many, it has been a surprise that Sims has emerged as a nice passer. Although he ranks only eighth in the SEC in passing yardage, he is fourth in passing efficiency and in yards per attempt (10.1), tied for second in completion percentage.

Perhaps it has been a surprise to Saban, too, which is the reason he hasn’t just said it.

Blake Sims is the Alabama quarterback.


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