Experience counts. So, who’s counting? That would seem to be the issue as Alabama begins its second full week of spring practice and looks ahead to Saturday’s first scrimmage. And although Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban didn’t point to quarterback, he did get questions about a couple of candidates about that most important position.
Alabama was back on the practice field Monday after a long weekend for Easter break as the Crimson Tide was in full gear for its fifth of 15 practices this spring.
Saban said, “The one thing that you notice in players that have a little maturity, have a little experience, is you give them the weekend off for Easter and they come back and they don't skip a beat. And you see some of the younger guys on the team that you're really trying to work with, they don't seem to be able to retain the things that you worked to get them to this point and you take a step back, and now you've got to try to take two steps forward. I think that's [lack of] maturity with young players.”
Alabama will be going into the 2016 season with a new starting quarterback, the third consecutive year Bama has faced that challenge. So far, so good, with Lane Kiffin – Bama’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach -- having developed Blake Sims in 2014 into a Southeastern Conference championship quarterback and Jake Coker last season into a national championship performer.
Neither Sims nor Coker had much experience going into their final seasons of college football.
The good news is that barring the unlikely, Alabama’s next quarterback will be around for at least a couple of years. The bad news is that the candidates have (combined) little experience as college quarterbacks.
Alabama has four scholarshipped quarterbacks on the practice field this spring, but Saban has effectively reduced conversation about the position to three.
The quarterbacks are Cooper Bateman, a 6-3, 224-pound fourth-year junior; David Cornwell, a 6-5, 234-pound third-year sophomore; Blake Barnett, a 6-5, 198-pound redshirt freshman; and Jalen Hurts, a 6-2, 210-pound freshman who entered The University for the spring semester.
The suggestion that Bateman played in all 15 Tide games last year and started one is wry testament to the challenge facing Alabama. Bateman played in every game as the holder on extra points and field goals, but he was responsible for no real success.
Saban has never started a true freshman at quarterback at Alabama, and the fact that he sometimes mentions “the three candidates” at the position does not bode well for Hurts’ possibilities this year.
Bateman played in five games last year, including an unlucky start in the Ole Miss game in which Bama turnovers were instrumental in the Tide’s lone loss of the year. He had 37 completions in 51 pass attempts for 291 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions and ran 5 times for 8 yards.
That’s it for the quarterback corps.
Saban was questioned about two of the quarterback candidates following the Tide’s Monday practice.
Regarding Bateman, Saban said, “Cooper's done a good job. He obviously has the most knowledge and experience with the offense. He's also the guy that's probably gotten more reps with the ones [first team offense] than anybody else. He's done a nice job. I think there're things that he needs to work on and we need to work on with him so that he can go out there and play with the kind of confidence and be the kind of leader and be the kind of decision-maker that we need at that position to play winning football. And that's what we'll continue to focus on.”
There were unsubstantiated reports that Cornwell was making a move on the starting job in fall camp last year, but he did not factor into the position.
Saban said, “David's having a good spring so far. David has a really good arm. His arm talent is probably as good as anybody we have. His accuracy's good. He's smart, a very bright guy. I think he's got enough experience in the offense having been around here to really have a good understanding of it. I think he's made a lot of progress.”
There is reason to believe the quarterback battle will not be settled until at least August camp.
Saban said, “The guy that wins the quarterback job is going to be the guy that wins the team over with his ability to play on a consistent basis, make the kind of choices and decisions, show the kind of leadership to affect other people. I think this is something that everybody in the group needs to work on.”