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Point / Counterpoint on the Quarterback Situation at Alabama

After Saturday’s game, we’ll all have more information to base a more educated opinion.

Point / Counterpoint on the Quarterback Situation at Alabama

By: Larry Burton

Since the controversy won’t die down until a starter is finally named. This week I’ll team with a good friend and fellow writer L.C. May. L.C. and I have been friends and colleagues at other publications and media and we may invite L.C. to start contributing more to the Touchdown Alabama website in the future and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him pop up in the magazine either.

Patience Pays Off: Why Blake Sims Deserves the Starting Job

By: L.C. May

On January 4, 2007, Nick Saban was introduced Alabama’s new football coach. A little over a year later, Saban brought in the best recruiting class in the country. Who was the headline quarterback for the legendary 2008 class? Star Jackson. Jackson backed up Greg McElroy for two years and later transferred to Georgia State.

Since that time, there have been four quarterbacks to transfer from Alabama seeking a starting role at another program. There is one quarterback that has stuck around. That player is Blake Sims was a four star athlete from Gainesville, Georgia. He had 863 rushing yards his senior season at Gainesville High School averaging just over 7 yards per carry. Saban offered him a scholarship and told him that he would play running back. Alabama had just won the 2009 national championship and running back Mark Ingram was the school’s first Heisman winner.

That was enough for Sims to see. So he turned down official offers from Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Ole Miss, and West Virginia.

Sims was redshirted his freshman year in 2010. In 2011, he continued his role as a backup running back to Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. He carried the ball 22 times for 107 yards that season. It was until the next year that he would make the transition to quarterback. Over the next two seasons he saw mop up duty in blowout wins and watched starting quarterback AJ McCarron get all the snaps and all the glory.

McCarron left for the NFL with a handful of national title rings and school records. He left behind the starting quarterback job for Blake Sims, but McCarron was barely off campus before Saban and the Alabama coaching staff picked up Jacob Coker, a transfer quarterback from Florida State.

Coker came to Tuscaloosa with a lot of hype primarily due to comments made by Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher. “Including what they’ve had, he’s much more talented than anything they’ve had. I don’t mean to discredit the previous guys, they were all great. But this guy is extremely talented. Arm and mind. He’s a backup because he’s behind the best quarterback in America. (Coker) may have been one of the top three or four quarterbacks in America physically,” Fisher said. “We could have been right there in the same position last year with him, I really believe that. You just had to make a choice. If he had played, got his reps and got in that role, we would have done extremely well. I’m a Jacob Coker fan.”

Alabama fans are not the only ones who have bought into the hype. Analysts and sports writers from all over the country are guilty of the same thing. Coker was named the pre-season Maxwell Award watch list in July before he had even taken his first snap in a Crimson uniform. Sims was not on the list.

Fall camp rolled around and the competition came down between Sims and Coker. Sims was more accustomed to the offensive and was making drastic improvement as they inched closer to the season. Coker is the ideal size for the pro-style offense and showed flashes of true potential, but was still trying to learn the new system.

Last Saturday, Alabama made their way to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to take on West Virginia. The time had finally come for Nick Saban and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to make a decision: Would it be Coker or Sims?

Alabama’s first offensive snap was a screen pass to Amari Cooper for a 24-yard gain. It was Blake Sims who got the first snap. Sims played about as good as you can expect a first time
starter to play. He finished the game 24 of 33 for 250 yards. His most impressive attribute was his ability to extend the play and avoid sacks, but he was not quick to run the ball. He stayed
patient and looked down field. There were bad throws made and some miscommunication that rattled him during the game. Saban almost put Coker in, but Sims rallied back and played a complete game.

It was not a perfect debut, but he did more than most fans gave him credit for. He has sat, watched, and waited patiently for his time and his time has come. There is still a whole season left to play and the quarterback competition will continue, but many believe, including AJ McCarron, that Sims has earned his spot.

“I just felt like Blake’s earned that right,” McCarron said. “He’s been a very loyal and good backup throughout my career. He’s been like a little brother. He’s always done the right thing so it was great to see him get a shot and I’m happy for him. He played lights out.”

Sims’ teammates have rallied around him and continue to support his role as the potential new starter. Like McCarron, they were also impressed with his performance.“I think Blake did a really good,” running back Derrick Henry said after the game. “Couldn’t be prouder for the guy,” offensive tackle Austin Shepherd added.

Sims knows that the competition is not over and that he has not yet locked in the spot to start over Jacob Coker. When asked about the competition Sims would say, “ I will leave that up to
Coach Saban. I worked hard and I was just glad that Coach Saban gave me the opportunity.”

Sims and Coker will likely split playing time for the next two games against Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss. The starting job should be decided before Alabama’s matchup against Florida in a few weeks.

Will Sims win the job? That has yet to be decided. Is Coker capable of winning the job? Yes. Is Sims the most physically talented quarterback on the team? Probably not. Does he have what it takes to start and does he deserve it? Absolutely.

Sims is not your regular ole speedy athlete that Saban just randomly decided to turn into a quarterback one day. Yes he did rush for over 800 yards his senior year of high school, but he also passed for 2,288 yards and 28 touchdowns that same year.

He waited patiently to earn his spot. He played backup to another quarterback and stuck around to help Alabama if they needed him, which is something that other backups have not done. He has been the number one supporter, and it is about time that supporters of the Crimson Tide do the same thing. Sims has earned his spot and he will prove it.

Should it be Coker at the Helm?

By: Larry Burton

The honest answer when it comes to who should start is “We don’t know enough yet to make that decision.” While I’m sure the coaches know more about it, I am also as sure that they’ll never tell us in the press. It will simply play out. I can hear Saban saying, “It is what it is. The guy that best gives us the opportunity to be our best will start.”

We haven’t seen Jacob Coker, who wants to be called “Jake”,  take any meaningful snaps so we as the media and you as fans have nothing to compare Sims with as of yet.

As for Sims, I am proud that he has “Starting Quarterback” at the University of Alabama on his resume whether he ever starts another game or not. I agree that he deserved that after all the years of doing anything he could to help the Tide. I think he did an adequate job in his first start. He did some things well and did some things not so well. I expect Coker to do much of the same.

And even if Coker surpasses Sims’ numbers and doesn’t throw a pick, does that even mean that he’s earned the starting job? At least in my opinion, maybe not. You can’t judge two men that played against two different teams. Certainly two different teams have different strengths and weaknesses, so that isn’t a fair comparison.

So how do you judge? With Saban, it starts with turnovers. If Coker doesn’t turn the ball over, one point Coker. Does he make the right reads, even if the pass is incomplete? If so, point for Coker. Sims didn’t do a good job looking for secondary and third choice receivers. He mostly stared down Amari Cooper and telegraphed a lot of throws last week, so if Coker scans the field a little better and hits more second and third choices, one point Coker. Sims also had some really bad throws, had trouble running Alabama’s standard “huddle” offense. How will Coker do in that area? We just don’t know yet.

As for “earning the right” to play for Alabama, where does Coker fit in? Certainly he doesn’t have a long history with this team. But he did take a huge step in leaving a national championship team where he would have unquestionably been the starter should Jameis Winston go down. He was not guaranteed a starting job when he talked to Saban about coming to join this team, but he was told that he would be given a fair shot to earn that game.

So even if Sims had put up 600 yards of passing and not had an incomplete pass all game long, a coach is only as good as his word so anyone who says Sims should have won the starting job based on his first shot at the job is simply stupid. Hey if Saban can call fans and the media stupid for dumb assumptions, it’s open game for us in the media too.

Coker gets to go out now and show what he can do, then we all make our decisions, but the only one that will matter is Saban’s. If you’re really an Alabama fan, you simply have to come to learn to accept the saying, “In Nick I trust.” Nick will make a decision based on who brings the team the best chance to win each Saturday and whoever he ends up with will be based on a mind far superior to any other. If that man is Coker, then he has truly “earned the right” to be the starter over Sims. To say anything else means that any freshman who starts over a veteran is just not right.

This is a football team and the players here aren’t in a union. Seniority doesn’t mean squat. It is all about being the best ball player.

People outside the program are using this battle to try and create negativity on the Alabama program. Some want to play the race card. Race is not an issue here. The team, predominately black, does not have a dog in the hunt. Yes, Sims has established friendships on the team that Coker has not yet. Sims is respected by his teammates because they’ve seen him sweat with them in the weight rooms and do anything the coaches have asked of him in practices and games and always while giving 100%.

I’ve interviewed many of these players over the years and the one thing I can tell you is that this team only wants the quarterback of their team to be the best quarterback they can play, just as they want the best defensive ends, the best punter and the best of any position out there. I can tell you without hesitation that if Coker wins the job, the first guy to back him up will be Sims and the only person upset with the decision will be from the ranks of the public or the media, not a single person on the team.

But getting back to the battle, every coach who has seen the two in practice have all said the same thing, and that is that Coker has a higher ceiling, meaning he has the ability to do more things they’d like to done than Sims has. Secondly, they all say he has a stronger arm and has the prototypical size you want in a quarterback. Therefore, if both have the same amount of talent and brains, Coker will win the battle every day of the year because he has the ability to make throws that Sims simply can’t. That’s what higher ceiling means.

But the real question is how equal is the talent and brains? All the things that Coker has over Sims are quickly overcome if Sims can beat him with his brain and make less dumb plays, less turnovers and correctly recognize defenses to change out to the right play.

As for who will win, I’m sure it will be the best man. As for my own opinion, I think that winner will be Coker. There is no reason to think that all Coker’s superior physical qualities will not win out. But whoever wins or loses the job, the real winner is Alabama. This contest did not divide the team and only gave them a second string quarterback that is better prepared to help the team if need be. Both players have raised their game and in the end, that’s what is most important.

What say the fans? Let us hear from you in the comment section below.

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