Alabama Coach Nick Saban got that question Sunday as the Crimson Tide continued preseason camp in search of a starting quarterback. Almost everyone thinks that senior Jacob Coker is in competition with a young guy, perhaps even redshirt freshman David Cornwell. But it could be the competitor is junior Alec Morris or sophomore Cooper Bateman or even true freshman Blake Barnett.
Although most fans probably think choosing the youngest has the most benefits, experience has shown that the older guy more frequently wins the job. Certainly, there are exceptions. The fact is that two are almost never exactly equal, and even if they are very close at some point, there is another point at which they separate.
Saban didn’t give a hint as to how he is thinking. Of course, Alabama’s opening game is nearly a month away when Bama takes on Wisconsin on Sept. 5 at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
He said, “I think in fairness to this team, to this group, to the commitment that this team has made, I think everyone on the team, myself and every coach expects us to make the decision about the quarterback based on who can help us and be the most effective player for us right now. That's how the decision is going to get made.
“I'm not really too concerned about what's happened in the past. I'm not really worried about what's going to happen somewhere down the road in the future but I am really, really concerned about what we need to do to get this team ready to be the best team they have to be.
“I think we have to make decisions on who can play the best for us right now, lead the team the best, make the best choices and decisions to play winning football.
“If someone shows great potential for the future, then our theory on how we manage that is to keep that guy in a position where he can develop so that if he's called on at some point in time in the future, he's going to be more ready to do that. But that does not give him sort of an advantage in being able to play right now.”
Alabama is coming off a 12-2 season in which the Crimson Tide won the Southeastern Conference championship. Nevertheless, it was not a good ending to the season even though Bama made the inaugural College Football Playoff field. Alabama lost to Ohio State, 42-35, in the semifinals at the Sugar Bowl.
Saban was asked if the off-eason this year was different because of that ending.
He said, “I think every offseason is different. When you win a national championship you have a different offseason because you won. And when you don’t win, you have a different season because you didn’t.
“We won the SEC championship, which I’m very proud of, our players for what they were able to accomplish and I think the difference has been for our players is what did you learn from the experience you had in how we finished, how we played, what can we do better to sustain the season and hopefully improve throughout the season. It doesn’t have anything to do with expectations or where you were ranked. We lost to a very, very good team that ended up winning the national championship. They played better than we played the day we played them.
“I’m responsible for that; we’re all responsible for it, and I take responsibility for it. What did we learn from it? What can we do better and if we can create that opportunity for ourselves, how can we finish better?”
As for the first few days of practice, Saban said, “We continue to make progress. After three practices...two in helmets, yesterday and today shoulder pads
“I think you can practice a little bit more after two days of acclimation and you have a little better feel for football-related type drills that you're able to do with shoulder pads on that are a little more difficult when you don't have pads on.
“I do think this is a great acclimation period for the players and player safety, being able to sort of step their way into full pads.
“I have really sort of liked the way the players have worked. Obviously some difficult circumstances with the weather situation around here but we're trying to get the players to... Everybody talks about being positive but to be positive you've got to eliminate the negative. So how about let's don't think about all the difficult things and bad things and tough things and focus on what we need to do to improve and get better.
“The thing I say to the team quite a bit is what do you want to accomplish, what are you willing to do to do it, how are you going to respond when things don't go well. These things are all choices and decisions that everybody makes every day. Are you going to do what you feel like doing or are you going to do what you need to do to actually accomplish the things that you're committed to.
“Those two things don't always match up perfectly, because sometimes you don't feel like getting up and working out or lifting or going to a meeting and paying attention or go out on the field and finish the plays.
“But that's what you need to do to be successful. So are you going to make the choice to do what you feel like doing or are you going to make the choice to do the things that you need to do to be successful.
“It comes down to there's two ways you can look at camp. You can say I'm going to try to survive this camp or I'm going to go out there and thrive every day in this camp in terms of working hard, pushing myself, trying to get in better condition, trying to be a player that can better go out and dominate the competition and do my job better.”
Saban was asked about middle linebacker Reuben Foster, who has had moments in which he showed he is a fierce defender, but who also has been victim of his own tackles with a series of injuries.
“He has done extremely well,” Saban said. “He did much better in the spring. He was able to get through the spring without any issues. So far this fall camp, not that we’ve done a lot of tackling, we’ve really only had one day when we thudded anybody, he’s a lot better in blow delivery and body position in blow delivery, which certainly should affect his ability to play with a little more safety in the future for himself and we’re hopeful. He’s done a nice job and we’re happy with the progress he’s making.”
Saban was asked what he wanted the identity of the offensive line to be. He said, “What we would like our offensive line to be, not just this offensive line, but every offensive line, is to be very physical on the line of scrimmage, be able to create movement and play with sort of a relentless tenacity and toughness that makes it more difficult for the defensive front that they’re playing against and obviously sort of have the mentality that we’re going to wear these people down because of how physical we play. That’s what we would want for every line.
“But the other things are important and that’s pass protection, playing together, giving the quarterback the opportunity to do what he needs to do, whatever that might be. So this is something that has to develop. First of all, getting the right players in the right positions to do it. Secondly, those players playing with one another so that they can have continuity to communicate to do the kind of things they need to do to play together as a unit and be effective.”