A championship mindset isn’t built in the fall; it’s formed in the offseason. A team is put through obstacles in the spring and summer, preparing it for battle in the fall. Alabama gained its 24th Southeastern Conference Championship, but didn’t obtain its ultimate goal in 2014.
The Crimson Tide looks to be more physical in 2015. Its roster is littered with talented offensive linemen and running backs. The program returns a fresh crop of receivers, but it needs a quarterback to command its offense. Now is the time for Jake Coker to emerge.
Lane Kiffin’s return to Alabama as its offensive coordinator eases the pain, but Coker will be under a microscope next season. He declared his transfer to Alabama from Florida State in January 2014, yet Coker didn’t arrive in Tuscaloosa until May. He was expected to win the starting job, however, Coker wasn’t in Tuscaloosa for the 2014 spring game, and had roughly three months to learn Kiffin’s system.
Coker’s lack of knowledge placed him as a backup quarterback for the Crimson Tide. He watched Blake Sims guide Alabama to the College Football Playoff. It was a reminder of how hard he has to work to become a starting quarterback.
Coker sat behind EJ Manuel and Jameis Winston in his three seasons at Florida State. He had the size (6-5/230) and arm strength, yet a knee injury in November 2013, forced him to watch Winston lead the Seminoles to an Atlantic Coast Conference Championship and a national title.
Sports writers piled praises of Heisman, All-American and other awards on Coker, but playing second fiddle didn’t offend him. He was a team player that congratulated Sims every step of the way. Coker’s humble attitude caught the eyes of his teammates and Alabama’s coaching staff.
He appeared in two more games at Florida State than Alabama, but Coker’s production in mop duty at Alabama surpasses that of Florida State. He completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 403 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in seven games at Alabama. Coker connected on 21 of 41 passes for 295 yards, one touchdown and an interception in nine games at Florida State.
The redshirt junior enters the 2015 offseason with something rare, a chance to re-write his first impression. He will have to fend off four other quarterbacks, but Coker possesses the abilities to get it done.
He’s had a year to learn the system and completely heal. Coker should have all the confidence in the world with Kiffin’s return and a lethal offensive roster. As spring practice approaches for Alabama, it’s left with one question. Is Jake Coker ready to lead this offense in 2015?