One of the more stable marriages in college football has been Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban and player development. As he enters his eighth season in Tuscaloosa, Saban’s been successful at preparing individuals to take the next step. He’s help players reach their full potential at Alabama, as well as generating prospects for the NFL Draft. Saban is sound on defense and is accurate most of the time on offense, but it when it comes to developing quarterbacks, he’s encountered some hits and misses.
Blake Sims did all he could in 2014 as a first-year starter. He guided Alabama to 12 wins, a Southeastern Conference championship and an appearance in the College Football Playoff. His departure to the 2015 NFL Draft leaves the Crimson Tide in a heated five-man battle for the next quarterback.
Senior Jake Coker saw action in seven games last season, accounting for 403 yards and four touchdowns. He is expected to “the guy” once again, but Coker’s release is too slow. He’s built chemistry with the players, but Coker tends to show inconsistency in his decision making. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Coker has all the physical tools, yet needs to refine some areas in his game.
Alec Morris, a junior, is the most experience quarterback on the roster (entering his fourth season). He possesses a strong arm with good size at 6-foot-3. Morris didn’t attempt a pass, despite appearing in four games last season. He averaged 270.7 passing yards per game at Allen High School (Allen, Texas). Like Coker, Morris deals with inconsistent play.
A mystery lies where sophomore Cooper Bateman in concerned. Alabama signed him as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in the 2013 class. He’s done well as a scout team player and holder on special teams. Bateman’s time of 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Cottonwood High School (Murray, Utah) led to Saban’s experimenting with him at wide receiver. Cam Sims’s knee injury caused Saban to evaluate his talent. He wants to see which position best fit the attributes of his players. His experiment with Bateman isn’t finalized, but it must be frustrating.
Redshirt freshman David Cornwell has emerged this spring as the guy that can possibly upstage Coker. Saban said Cornwell has strong leadership skills and is a very bright player. Cornwell has been turning heads since his days at Norman North High School (Norman, Okla.) as a marquee name. He tallied 2,742 passing yards and 27 touchdowns as a junior in 2012. Cornwell has dropped 19 pounds, yet he’s still physical standing at 6-foot-5.
True freshman Blake Barnett is as good as advertised after 13 days of spring practice. He will have everyone’s attention Saturday, as Alabama takes Bryant-Denny Stadium for its annual A-Day game. Barnett, a five-star prospect, is the highest rated quarterback that Alabama has signed. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound freshman dropped jaws at Santiago High School (Corona, Calif.) as a dual threat quarterback. He posted a career-high 3,404 passing yards in 11 games last year. Barnett put in 479 rushing yards with seven touchdowns in 2014.
Saban evaluates his quarterbacks on four things: leadership, decision making, accuracy and ball placement. The individual that displays consistency in all four is usually the one that obtains the job. Saban is looking for someone to take control. It was a game manager that got it done at quarterback for Alabama, dating back to 2008.
John Parker Wilson ended his career with every significant passing record. He collected 7,924 yards, and guided Alabama to a 12-2 season in 2008.
Greg McElroy was recruited by Mike Shula in 2006, but Saban made him a star. McElroy threw for 2,508 yards with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions on a 60.9 percent completion rating in 2009. He guided Alabama to a 14-0 season, culminating in a SEC championship and a national title.
Alabama fans watched AJ McCarron grow up before their eyes. He stormed in Saban’s office as a redshirt freshman (2010), demanding a chance with the first-team offense, but was quickly humbled by Saban’s response to him…EARN IT. McCarron earned his shot by showing leadership, good judgment and protecting the ball. He registered 2,634 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions on a 66.8 percent completion clip in 2011. McCarron’s efforts helped Alabama secure its second national title under Saban and 14th in program history. He went on to guide the Crimson Tide to another national championship in the 2012 season.
Nick Saban has had inconsistencies at quarterback. Starr Jackson, Phillip Sims, Parker McLeod and Luke Del Rio didn’t workout. John Parker Wilson, Greg McElroy, AJ McCarron and Blake Sims were the ones that achieved success. All four quarterbacks were game managers. Sims had more athleticism, but all four guys protected the ball. Alabama’s offensive line will find its identity, but everything starts with the individual under center. Saban doesn’t need an All-American pulling the trigger. All he needs is a willing player that will make the right decisions.