Alabama Coach Nick Saban said no one was holding a gun to his head forcing a timetable to name a starting quarterback, but he did reveal that the field of five has been narrowed to three in terms of who will be prepared to play when Alabama opens the season a week from Saturday against Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas.
The three, in order of being mentioned by Saban, are senior Jacob Coker, sophomore Cooper Bateman, and junior Alec Morris. Saban said this had been a good week of practice and that those three had been given the bulk of practice time and that all had made progress. Saban did say that no order has been decided. And as for when he might make that call, he said, “I don’t really have a timetable for that.”
Bateman’s star has risen in recent days. Last spring he spent part of his practice time with the wide receivers.
Saban said, “Cooper's really, really improved. I meet with guys after spring practice and I told him, 'Look, you've done everything we've asked you to do for the team. You've very athletic. You went out and tried to play receiver when we needed you to do that. But if you're going to be a quarterback, we want you to improve your accuracy as a passer, your ability to take care of the ball. You're very athletic. You're the kind of quarterback we'd like to have here.
“And lo and behold, he did that. He did that in May, he did that over the summer. His completion percentage has been very, very good relative to the other guys and he is very athletic and he can run. We like a quarterback to be like that.”
Asked about the difficulty of preparing the team with multiple quarterbacks, Saban said, “Multiple to me would be two, which is what you usually do for any team in any game. And then you have a third that your try to get ready on a limited basis.
“That’s what we plan to do. That's really kind of how we've practiced this week and that's how we'll continue to practice. I have been pleased with the way all three of the guys played this week. They've all done a really, really good job. I've seen a lot of progress offensively this week. I think that's been one of the most encouraging things, is I see some continuity, togetherness. The offensive line is a little more physical, playing with more toughness.”
Speaking of the offensive line, Saban said, “I asked one of our players on the offensive line, ‘Which one of the quarterbacks do you like the best?’ He said, ‘Well, since we don’t huddle, we don’t even know who’s in there.’”
He continued, “So my question is: Is it a known fact that you have to do this a certain way; that if you don’t have a starting quarterback that means you can’t get ready to play well? If you play more than one guy, that you can’t play good?
“I don’t know.
“I have confidence in our guys that they will play well in the game. How we're going to play them in the game, I haven't decided. Look, I don't have a gun to my head saying, 'Okay, if I don't know this by Saturday, I'm going to miss church and go jump off a bridge.' I'm not there yet.”
Saban referenced some familiar themes. He said, “We’ve been through this several times before. I think you can name a guy but if we named a guy and then that guy wasn't the best performer and we had to unname him, what good does that do? So sometimes you run the risk of naming a guy before he's really won the team or won the job. So then you have to unname him. Does that do the player any good?
“When A.J. McCarron and Philip Sims were here, we didn't name a starter for the first game. We played both guys in the first game. One played a quarter and then the next guy played a quarter and see who played the best and then named that guy the starter for the next game.
“I'm not saying that's our plan, but I think when you're really trying to give people who are competing and they've all done a good job, you have to have some clear-cut evidence that a guy really has won the job and he has won the team.
“You can't make that happen. As bad as I would like to be able to say, 'This is our starting quarterback' -- I would really like to be able to say that -- that doesn't mean that we don't have a good quarterback, it means we may have more than one quarterback and they are both playing very well or three guys are playing really well.
“It makes it very difficult to make a decision. How those guys develop and who we think can improve and develop the most during the season is also going to have something to do with this decision that we make. I would not rule out _ I'm not saying we're going to do this or that we even want to do this but if that doesn't happen we may play more than one guy in the first game.”
Also in the quarterback conversation for the past week or so has been the question of redshirt freshman David Cornwell. Cornwell had been projected by some as a serious candidate for the starting job, but seemed to fall out of favor when he was not mentioned by Saban in a couple of press briefings. Saban said, “David Cornwell has done a really, really good job. He struggled a little bit early on in camp. He's certainly getting better all the time, and we have a lot of confidence that he'll be a good player in the future.”