For Alabama fans, the primary concern entering the 2015 season is the same one prior to the Crimson Tide’s 2014 season – quarterback. Last year everyone expected Jacob Coker, who had transferred in from Florida State during the summer, to win the job over little-used fifth-year senior Blake Sims. Surprisingly, then, Sims not only earned the quarterback job, but had a record-setting performance in leading Bama to the Southeastern Conference championship and into the inaugural College Football Playoff field.
This year the senior Coker is again in the mix, but it’s a bigger pool of talent. Who hasn’t heard the adage, “If you have two quarterbacks, that means you don’t have one.” What, then, about having five quarterbacks? Five, of course, will not be playing. Although Head Coach Nick Saban sometimes points to having played two quarterbacks in the past (at LSU), like almost all modern coaches he is a proponent of the one-quarterback system.
With less than two weeks to go until the season-opener against Wisconsin on Sept. 5 at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, there is no evidence that Alabama has settled on a quarterback. That has happened before. Last year, Sims won the battle in the second and final scrimmage, but in 2011 A.J. McCarron didn’t solidify his hold on the position until after the first game of the year. That worked out as McCarron helped Bama to the national championship.
As Sims’ fine season unfolded last year, it became apparent that Bama’s offense was benefiting substantially from the work of Lane Kiffin, who is both quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. This year a mantra of comfort has been that Kiffin proved what a job he can do with a new, unproven quarterback, and, also, the conviction that the five candidates in this year’s camp – Coker, junior Alec Morris, sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell, and true freshman Blake Barnett -- have more quarterback talent than did Sims.
Still, as the season draws closer, the issue of quarterback has moved beyond curiosity in the minds of Alabama fans and to the top of the list among concerns.
It is likely there are other issues being addressed by the coaching staff, perhaps concerns the rest of us are unaware. Consistency in the secondary has been an ongoing problem. What about placekicking? How has the rebuilt offensive line come along, and is there enough depth there? Speaking of depth, are there enough tailbacks who can get the job done?
And on and on.
Although related to the quarterback issue, a second concern may involve the receiving corps. When Saban talked about needing more precision in the passing game, he didn’t put it all on the quarterbacks.
A successful passing game involves the offensive line and running backs providing protection, the quarterback making the right decision and an accurate pass, and the receivers running good routes and making catches. Saban mentioned those receiving skills in his discussion of the need for improvement in the passing game.
In year one A.A. – After Amari – how are Bama’s wide receivers fitting into the offense? Alabama lost the incomparable Amari Cooper along with DeAndrew White and Christion Jones as the three leaders in the wide receiver corps from last year.
Saban has given praise to Ardarius Stewart, who had eight catches in Saturday’s scrimmage. True freshman Calvin Ridley seems to be making waves. And although they have been slowed by minor injuries at times, Robert Foster and Chris Black seem solid. A key may be that Alabama was able to make the unlikely addition of fifth-year senior transfer from Oregon Richard Mullaney.
Coaches and players have said it many times. “We don’t worry about things we can’t control.” That doesn’t mean that things out of their control aren’t concerns.
Exhibit 1-A: The 2015 Alabama football schedule, called by experts the nation’s most difficult.
It starts with being in the Southeastern Conference Western Division, regarded by many as the toughest in the nation. Bama’s only good fortune is that it doesn’t have to face the traditional bully of the conference – except in scrimmages. The Tide will face West opponents Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Auburn on the road; Arkansas, Ole Miss, and LSU in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Add to that facing the Wisconsin team that made it to the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State last season.
Alabama is less than two weeks from the start of the 2015 football season-opener against Wisconsin at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 5. At that point we may see how well the primary concerns have been addressed.