There is no motivation whatsoever for Alabama to have a starting quarterback by Saturday, when Bama has its first scrimmage of the spring. Or the next Saturday or the next, April 16, when the Crimson Tide completes spring football practice with the A-Day Game. The competition will continue at least until sometime in August barring something unforeseen.
In the past, Alabama Coach Nick Saban, like most modern coaches, has been in theory and in practice a “one quarterback guy.” There are good reasons for that philosophy regarding leadership and continuity.
Older Alabama fans remember legendary Coach Paul Bryant going with more than one quarterback, but that was primarily in the wishbone days when the quarterback was often as much running back as the halfbacks. When he had Joe Namath or Pat Trammell or Kenny Stabler, Bryant was more likely to be a one quarterback guy, too.
This spring Alabama has what players and Saban describe as a good competition between two quality quarterbacks, upcoming sophomore A.J. McCarron, who has been the back-up the past two years, and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims, who is going through his second spring practice.
Following Alabama’s Wednesday practice, Saban said that in Saturday’s scrimmage “both guys are going to get equal reps. They get equal reps every day in practice. Both are doing a good job, both making a lot of good throws, and also having some learning opportunities in things that come up that maybe they weren’t quite ready for. I’m pleased with the progress both guys have made. We’re looking for those guys to show leadership and their understanding of how important leadership is at that position, how they affect other people, and that’s going to have something to do with how they get evaluated and we’ll go from there.”
Saban is a smart man, and he’s not going to get boxed in. He’ll listen to the question of rotating quarterbacks, but couches his answer with “potentially” and “anything is possible” phrases. He even pointed out that when he was coach at LSU there was a year (2004) in which both starter Marcus Randall and freshman JaMarcus Russell played a role.
“I’m not ready to say we’re heading down that road,” Saban added.
The coach said he will be watching in Saturday’s closed scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium to see how players compete when there is no coach nearby to encourage or instruct the player. That’s because, Saban said, the next step is for the player to take what he has learned to the field.
Saban said, “We’ve had two really good days of spring practice,” including the installation process of Alabama offense and defense has gone well. He added that the installation process “is more opportunities for young players to make mistakes, but also more learning opportunities for those young players to develop and grow, which is a good thing.”
He said on defense he sees maturity as players with experience have good carryover and on offense he sees players competing and making progress. Conventional wisdom is that Alabama with 10 starters and many back-ups returning on defense will be stronger on that side than on offense, where a handful of stars have departed.
Saban said, “We’re encouraged with the progress we have made, we are pleased with the pace. I have been really encouraged by the tempo we have had in practice, the attitude we have had in practice, and the way we have tried to finish things. Those things have been really good.”
He said offensive lineman Tyler Love continues to miss work because of a concussion suffered last week. The coach also reported that junior college transfer defensive lineman Jesse Williams had been held out of Wednesday work because of soreness in a knee that had arthroscopic surgery during the off-season. Williams is expected back for Friday’s practice.
Asked about the schedule for special teams in Saturday’s scrimmage, Saban said, “Each day in practice we try to take two segments of special teams and work them. Early on we probably spend a little bit more time on punt, but we have worked every area at least once, most of them twice, but at least once. We will -- not ‘live’ -- but we will get the teams out there and actually take a look at probably five or six punts, five or six punt returns, two or three kickoff returns, two or three kickoff coverage, and get at least six to eight field goals, four each (for placekickers Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster).
“ There is no particular scheme we are trying to evaluate; we are just trying to fundamentally do the things we need to do basically to be a good team with special teams. Personnel evaluations, young players, it’s real important on special teams, and this year I think we have some guys who are going to be core players who are going to be backup players who can help us on special teams.”