After finishing last season at 11-2, Alabama’s focus now shifts toward next season. As the intensity continues to rise in spring practice, the coaching staff is starting to weed out the contenders from the pretenders.
With AJ McCarron pursuing the NFL, the quest for the Tide’s next signal caller starts now. For Alabama fans, they will have the joy of watching six players compete for the starting job. Though many have hopped on the Jacob Coker bandwagon, he has yet to arrive in Tuscaloosa.
Weighing in at 6’5” 230 pounds, Coker is one of two physical quarterbacks the Tide has recruited. He possesses a lot of talent and has tremendous upside. Despite seeing little playing time at Florida State, Coker did get in some mop up duty behind Jameis Winston.
Along with having a strong arm, Coker brings his mobility to Alabama. He displays great footwork in the pocket and is able to throw on the run.
David Cornwell is the second physical quarterback for the Crimson Tide. At 6’5” 241 pounds, Cornwell has the potential of being a first round pick in the future. Like Coker, Cornwell does display some mobility. As a member of North Norman High School (Oklahoma), Cornwell rushed for 755 yards and six touchdowns in his junior season.
After suffering a knee injury his senior year, Cornwell has returned strong and is rehabbing his way into the competition. He is a four-star prospect who excel in a pro-style offense. According to 247 Sports.com, Cornwell was listed as the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the nation.
Though he may not be as physical as the first two, Cooper Bateman is a force to be reckoned with. He has the typical quarterback build at 6’3” 208 pounds. As a senior at Cottonwood High School in Murray, Utah, Bateman passed for 2,384 yards and 15 touchdowns.
On the ground, Bateman rushed for 12 scores. He was a four-star prospect and was listed as the No. 3 pocket passer by ESPN and No. 5 pro-style quarterback by 247 Sports.com. What separates Bateman from his counterparts is his gunslinger mentality. Like McCarron, Bateman has the ability to thread the needle or guide passes to the receivers.
Alabama always finds a way to equate itself with Texas. Greg McElroy was the first Crimson Tide quarterback to achieve success from a Texas high school (Carroll Senior High School—Southlake). As a native of Allen, Texas, Alec Morris hopes he can dawn the job of being the man under center next season. Like Bateman, Morris (6’3″ 230 pounds) possesses the typical build of a quarterback.
In his senior season at Allen High School, Morris passed for 3,242 yards and 35 touchdowns. Alabama fans were impressed with Morris in the 2013 A-Day Game. In the spring game, Morris displayed the capability to drive the ball downfield. He completed passes and at times really looked in sync with the offense.
If we were judging off experience, Blake Sims should assume the role of starting quarterback. He’s notched two years of mop up duty behind McCarron. At 6’0” 202 pounds, Sims has half of the formula he needs to be the signal caller. The aspect that has burned Alabama in recent seasons has been dual threat quarterbacks.
For Sims, Crimson Tide fans have known him for his speed and vision as a runner, but they have only seen flashes of what he could be as a passer. Sims has passed for 244 yards and two touchdowns thus far. His finest performance came last season against Georgia State. In the matchup with the Panthers, Sims completed 77.8 percent of his passes for 130 yards and a touchdown.
With Sims, his delivery on short to intermediate passes is great. It’s his delivery on post and deep ball routes that need work. Under the leadership of Lane Kiffin, Alabama is going to want to put the ball in the air often. Sims has the capability to do that, but he must develop more confidence in his arm.
So far, Sims is progressing in spring practice. His throwing motion looks fluent and he is starting to put some heat on the ball. Sims’s footwork in the pocket looks crisp. Coach Saban has even told the press that Sims is an improving work in progress.
Fan Favorite for QB: Jacob Coker or David Cornwell
Who’s in Spring Practice: Cornwell, Sims, Bateman, Morris and Parker McLeod
Battle for Starting QB: Coker, Cornwell and Bateman
Battle for Back up QB: Sims, Morris and McLeod
For six years, Alabama has gone with a two-back system. It started in 2008 with Glenn Coffee and Mark Ingram and exploded from there. 2014 will present an interesting challenge for the Tide as it has three running backs competing for the starting job. At 6’2” 218 pounds, TJ Yeldon is the leader in the clubhouse.
After rushing for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman, Yeldon topped that with a great sophomore campaign. Last season, he totaled 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns. Despite being a taller back, Yeldon displays great vision in the hole. He has good speed and uses his eyes to set up holes and cutback lanes. Regardless of his abilities, the coaching staff is concerned with Yeldon’s ball security.
Yeldon had five fumbles last season and most of them came in critical moments. While he is being looked at as a potential Heisman winner in 2014, Yeldon’s focused must be on securing the football.
Alabama fans didn’t see much of Kenyan Drake last season, but the little they saw, has them hungry for more. Drake is lighter than Yeldon at 6’1” 201 pounds, but he has great breakaway speed. While Yeldon is shifty, Drake is elusive in the hole. He has the ability to make defenders miss and then put on the gas.
His best games last season came against tough Southeastern Conference competition. Drake rushed for over 100 yards against Kentucky and Arkansas and finished 2013 with 975 yards and 13 touchdowns.
If Drake is hungry, then Derrick Henry is starving for the starting position. His success at Yule High School (Yulee, Fla.) has propelled him into being a star at Alabama. At 6’3” 238 pounds, Henry brings the rare combination of power and speed to the Crimson Tide. He reminds Alabama fans of Ingram and Trent Richardson in the aspect of he’s built low.
Henry rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas, but really came to center stage against Oklahoma. He rushed for 100 yards and two total touchdowns. All three running backs are doing well in spring practice; it will be interesting to see which one will emerge?
Fan Favorite for RB: Derrick Henry
Who’s in Spring Practice: Yeldon, Drake, Henry and Altee Tenpenny
Battle for Starting RB: Yeldon, Drake and Henry
After battling a toe injury last season, Amari Cooper is back and healthy. He finished 2013 with 45 receptions for 736 yards and four touchdowns. Cooper is a great route runner with good hands. He has elite speed and is physical against defensive backs. He will be looked upon next season to lead the receiver core.
In 2013, DeAndrew White proved he was back in business. He totaled 32 receptions for 534 yards and four touchdowns. As a senior, Kevin Norwood’s mantle of being a clutch receiver may fall on White. He is a physical player who displays great speed and hands. He is a smooth route runner, but excel at post and deep ball routes.
It will be interesting to see how teams will go about defending Christion Jones next season. He is a threat in every aspect of the game. He totaled 349 yards and two touchdowns as a receiver and is a game changer on special teams.
With O.J. Howard, Ty Flourney-Smith and Brian Vogler, defenses better prepare for a ton of deep crossing routes next season. All three guys have good hands and Howard has elite speed. Howard recorded 14 receptions for 269 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Like Kenyan Drake, Tide fans saw little of Chris Black last season. Black is a very versatile player. He can be a receiver, running back or return specialist. He has top speed and is very shifty. Black totaled 8 receptions for 79 yards and two touchdowns last season.
For Robert Foster, Raheem Falkins and Cameron Sims, the opportunities are endless. All three guys have the potential to be breakout receivers for Alabama.
With this offense, Lane Kiffin has the keys to a very expensive car. His main job is to keep it in the road and use each player to their full potential.