“I know you’re anxious to ask me about the quarterback situation,” Alabama Coach Nick Saban said. “That’s going to be one of the keys to the drill in terms of somebody taking the bull by the horns at that position; being assertive; playing with confidence; distributing the ball and executing in a positive way; being a good decision-maker, and showing leadership at the same time.
“We do not have an experienced player at that position.
“We did not have one last year [at this time].”
Blake Sims won the job in a close battle with Jacob Coker, who is now a senior quarterback candidate for Alabama. But he’s not the only candidate. The others, in class rank, are junior Alec Morris, sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell, and true freshman Blake Barnett.
“Blake Sims did a fantastic job,” Saban said of the fifth-year senior who completed 230 of 355 passes (64.8 per cent) for 3,250 yards and 26 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. “We need somebody to be that kind of player for us at that position.”
Coker was second in Crimson Tide passing statistics, but with only 38 of 59 (64.4 per cent) for 403 yards with four TDs and no interceptions.
Saban said, “I think we have several gtuuys that are capable of it. I don’t think anybody’s come to the forefront as of yet, and I don’t think it’s something that we can force to happen. I think we’ve got to let it happen. And I cannot give you a timetable of when that’s going to happen.”
Someone did follow up with a question as to how Coker is doing and Saban said, “Jake Coker has done an outstanding job for us. I think he’s made a tremendous amount of improvement. I think that he has a better understanding, better knowledge of the system, better knowledge of what we expect – what’s expected of him in our offense. Those all are things that have contributed to his confidence and his performance level.
”We just want to see him continue to develop the kind of consistency to make the kind of decisions and judgments to process the information quickly and make quick decisions that allow him to play winning football at his position.
“We’re encouraged by all the things that he’s done to this point.”
Regarding the upcoming Crimson Tide team, Saban said he was pleased to report that there was no news, which in the case of a football team in the summer is good news indeed. “That means your players are doing the right things,” Saban said. “They are all into what they should be doing to get prepared for the season.”
On the academic front, Saban reminded reporters that Alabama “has been one of the top schools in graduation rate in our conference and on a national basis.” He said the Tide had seven men in the Sugar Bowl at the end of last season who had master’s degrees. Before the season started, 22 men had earned undergraduate degrees, and there had been 28 the year before.”
He said the players are working hard, “doing things the way we want them to do them; not a lot of negative energy; a lot of positive energy. A lot of good character, a lot of positive leadership.
“I think, to continue to build leadership between players and players and players and coaches -- because every player wants to know that his coach knows how well he's doing. So to communicate, to see it, to value it, to notice it, and to reinforce it, I think is really, really something that we all need to do more of, catch them doing it right, and that's something that's been pretty easy to do.
“I think this will benefit our team in the future.
“It's important for players to do the right thing the right time, the right way, and do it all the time, to have a vision for what they want to accomplish, and understand the defined process of things they have to do personally, academically, and athletically. It takes a lot of discipline to be able to execute that every day, and that's certainly something that we try to get our players to buy into.
“It's not only doing the right thing the right way, the right time all the time. It's making choices and decisions that we all make every day. Discipline to me is, “Here's something that I know I'm supposed to do that I really don't want to do. Can you make yourself do it?’ And then over here, ‘There's something that you know you're not supposed to do that you want to do. Can you keep yourself from doing it?’
“So this is kind of the decision making that creates a moral compass for all of us to help us do the right things, to stay focused on the process of what we need to accomplish our goals and aspirations, and something that's certainly going to be important for our team to do a good job of if we're going to be able to have the kind of team that we'd like to have.
“It's going to be a challenge for our team to re-establish the identity that we would like to play with.
“We want to be more physical, tougher on the line of scrimmage, be relentless in the way that we compete so that we're never affected by what happens in a game, that we can keep playing at a high level on a consistent basis, and that we take care of the ball and do the kind of things to execute with consistency that's going to give our team the best chance to have success.
“These are things that we need to improve on. We did not finish the season the way we wanted to last year in terms of the way we played. We turned the ball over too much at the end of the season, we gave up too many explosive plays on defense, we gave up too many points because of a combination of all those things. So we need to improve in all those areas.
“This year's team has its challenges, like all teams do. In college football, you probably lose 25 per cent of your team every year, which is what makes it great, makes it fun to rebuild, but this year especially on offense, we're going to have a lot of new faces, and we have some talented players. They don't have a lot of experience. So how rapidly they develop is going to be a key to how well we come together on offense.
“Defensively, we have a lot more experience, a lot more veteran returning players. We're going to have a very, very good front seven, and I think it's important that the secondary does not give up the kind of explosive plays we gave up at the end of the season last year. And I think it's also important that, if we're going to be a no huddle team like we were last year, I think we have to manage the season better with our team, because I think at the end of the season last year, we ran out of gas a little bit. We played more plays, I think by 170 on defense, which is like a couple, three more games. And our players showed it. So we're going to have to do a better job of keeping our team where they need to be so that we can finish strong.
“We have some outstanding specialists on our team. We have a great punter. I think a good field goal kicker who seems to be healthy again. And because we have good team speed and some pretty good depth, especially on defense, it should contribute in a positive way to being very, very strong on special teams.
So even though this team has its challenges, it also has a lot of very good returning players that can provide leadership and example for a lot of other young players so that we can have a very competitive team.”
Saban acknowledged that Alabama’s schedule of the SEC Western Division, along with the top two pre-season teams in the East – Georgia and Tennessee – is a daunting one. But, he said, “I think everyone’s schedule in our league is very, very difficult. In our league you have to look at it like there are always going to be seven or eight teams that can beat you.
“So it's important that you build a team that looks at every game as the challenge and plays to a high level on a consistent basis. So that gives you the best opportunity to have success long term.”