No one expected Nick Saban to provide a quarterbacks depth chart, or even to have much to say about the competition that will go on in Alabama’s spring practice following Friday’s practice. Indeed, he suggested that as has been the case in the last two quarterback battles that the decision could go until the end of fall camp, which ends about 10 days before the Crimson Tide opens the 2015 season against Wisconsin in Dallas on Sept. 5.
But Saban had general thoughts on what he hopes to see from at least one of the five candidates – senior Jacob Coker, junior Alec Morris, sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell, and true freshman Blake Barnett.
Generally speaking, Saban said, “I think I want to see what every coach would want to see and what every fan would want to see and everyone sitting in this room would want to see, is that the guy can go in and provide leadership for our team, make good choices and decisions about what he has to do to play winning football as his position, which means he makes good judgments out there. Takes care of the ball, is accurate enough to throw the ball to the skill guys we have and make throws that allow us to make big plays and is not going to be a guy that doesn’t take of the ball, is careless with the ball, turns the ball over, and makes good choices and decisions about all those things. I think that’s what we look for in a quarterback anytime: leadership, judgment, accuracy, good decision making in terms of where he delivers the ball and how he distributes it and that’s what we’ll look for. And the guy that does that the best for us is going to be the best guy that will have the opportunity to play that position.”
As would be expected, most of the interest is on Coker, the Mobile native who served as the back-up to Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston in a national championship season before transferring to Alabama last fall. Coker was generally considered the favorite to win the Bama job last year, but he lost out in fall camp to Blake Sims, who went on to have a dynamite year for the Tide.
While Coker, 6-5, 235) was the back-up to Sims, he was never called on in clutch situations. He completed 38 of 59 passes (64.4 per cent) for 403 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran seven times for 13 yards…and showed some toughness as a runner.
While it was reasonable to inquire about the progress of Coker since last season, Saban deflected the question. “We’ve onlyhad one practice,” Saban said. “You guys act like we’ve been practicing illegally since January, which we haven’t.
“So as much as I’d like to be able to tell you that the guy has done great since January, we really can’t because all we’ve done is run around cones and jump over bags and that kind of stuff.”
But Saban could provide a little more information on Coker.
“Today is the first day, Saban reiterated. “He certainly seemed a lot more confident out there and comfortable. Obviously when he started last year it was a whole new offense to him, everyone was ahead of him, and right now I feel like right now he’s a lot more comfortable and confident with what we’re doing.”
Saban also gave a glimpse as to how quarterback practice will go this spring.
“We’ve tried to make it a little easier with what we’re doing at that position so that they don’t have the burden as some of the guys in the past have had so that the inexperienced players can develop a little more quickly and we’re hopeful Jake will be able to do that and we’re pleased with where he is right now.”
There is also interest in the highly-ranked true freshman quarterback, Blake Barnett, who entered The University in January in order to participate in spring practice.
Saban said, “Today's really the first day we've seen him play quarterback. We saw him in the offseason program. He's done a great job. He's got great leadership qualities. He's a great person. I'm sure as all the freshmen _ we have eight new ones out there, seven freshmen and a transfer _ they've all got a lot to learn.”
The goal, Saban said, is “Here's where are, here's where we want to go, what do we need to do to get there. We're going to focus on helping you improve so that you can be the best player that you can be by the end of spring practice. And next year you're going to be the best player you can be by the end of fall camp, and then we're going to have to make decisions on what your role is and how you can contribute to the team.
“That's really the only goal and aspiration we have for any of the players, including Blake. He certainly is a guy that comes here with high accolades but I think that's one of the most dangerous things that can happen to these guys right now. There's such an expectation created for what they're going to do when they get here that everybody loses focus on the process of what it takes to be a complete player, to be a good player, and the time that it takes to develop. We've got a lot of patience in trying to develop our players. How fast he develops can be kind of how fast he can get the uptake and go out there and execute and do the job that I know he wants to do and we'd like for him to do.”
Alabama players are now on spring break. The second practice of the spring will be Monday, March 23. Bama will conclude spring drills with the A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on April 18.