College football coaches are an optimistic lot. After Alabama won its first national championship under Coach Nick Saban in 2009, the coach promised at the Bryant-Denny Stadium ceremony that, “This is not the end. This is the beginning.” And he was right, winning national championships in 2011 and 2012, too.
That blue skies outlook has not always been a part of the profession, particularly at Alabama where famed Paul “Bear” Bryant was king of the poor-mouthers. Prior to the 1966 season – following national championships in 1964 and 1965 -- Bryant was growling. “We don’t have a quarterback,” he told the media, “unless you count Stabler.” Kenny Stabler led the Crimson Tide to an 11-0 record as the 1966 quarterback.
When Nick Saban arrived at Alabama in January 2007, sports reporters learned that they would not be allowed to watch spring practice, as had been permitted for as long as football had been played at The University. John Parker Wilson was the quarterback Saban inherited, but in 2009 there was going to be a new quarterback.
I was giving a speech that summer and in the question and answer period a man said, “I’ve got a comment and a question. My comment is that I’m glad Coach Saban keeps the reporters in their place and doesn’t let them watch practice. My question is ‘How is Greg McElroy looking?’”
I said, “How the &@#% should I know? Saban keeps me in my place.”
The real answer, had I been allowed to watch practice, may or may not have been, “I think Greg McElroy will lead Alabama to the national championship this year.” I sure wouldn’t have made that prediction when A.J. McCarron succeeded McElroy as Bama’s starting quarterback in 2011 and was the second consecutive first-year quarterback to lead the Tide to the national title. I thought the long-departed Philip Sims, with a stronger arm and quicker release, would win the job.
Now McCarron is gone, finished with an outstanding 36-4 record as a three-year starter and with three national championship rings (as starter in 2011 and 2012 and as the non-playing back-up to McElroy in 2009).
Reporters still do not get to watch Alabama practices. It could be that even if we did, we wouldn’t have much of an idea about who is going to quarterback the Tide in 2014.
But that doesn’t mean Nick Saban doesn’t have an idea. It may be that Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Doug Nussmeier had a plan, but now it looks like the QB olan will be implemented by a new assistant coach with Nussmeier expected to be announced as Michigan’s new offensive coordinator.
To be sure, there will be a competition among the quarterback candidates. It will begin with the off-season program, continue through spring practice and summer past skel drills, and almost certainly conclude no earlier than August. Alabama opens the season Aug. 30 against West Virginia in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
It is a complicated picture.
Blake Sims has been McCarron’s back-up the past two seasons, but Sims plays nothing like McCarron. That’s in part because Sims was never in the game when he had to do anything but run clock and have fun, but it seems as if the basic offense would have to change with Sims at quarterback. Sims, 6-0, 202, is an upcoming senior who played in eight games in 2013. He had 15 rushes for 61 yards and completed 18-29 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Saban is on record as saying that just because Sims was number two in 2013 doesn’t mean that he will move up to number one in 2014.
By seniority, Alec Morris would be the next most experienced in that he will be a third-year sophomore in the fall. Morris, 6-3, 230, played briefly in the Chattanooga game, but did not have statistics.
During the course of the year, Saban said that the number three quarterback was freshman Luke Del Rio, a 6-2, 203-pound walk-on. He did not play in 2013 and has four years of eligibility remaining. Del Rio, whose father Jack is defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos and former head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, came to Bama last winter and took part in spring practice. (Although he is a walk-on at Alabama, he had scholarship offers to UCLA, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, and Colorado State.)
Also entering The University last January and taking part in spring drills and being redshirt freshmen coming into 2014 are Cooper Bateman, 6-1, 208, and Parker McLeod, 6-3, 193. (The Tide list of quarterbacks is so long that a Tuscaloosa News report on the upcoming position battle didn’t even mention McLeod, although a spokesman for Bama football assured that he continues on the team.)
Those four are being joined this spring by David Cornwell, a 6-5, 230-pound signee from Norman, Okla. He is a strong-armed four-star prospect, ranked seventh in the nation at his position.
The field could be narrowed by attrition in the spring or summer.
There could also be an addition in the summer.
’BAMA Magazine/BamaMag.com reporter, Cary L. Clark, was the first to report that Florida State back-up quarterback Jacob Coker intends to graduate at FSU and transfer to Alabama. The Mobile native, a 6-5, 230-pound third-year sophomore, was playing behind Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, a freshman, when Coker injured his knee this season. If Coker, who has faintly denied the rumor of his transfer, earns his degree, he would be eligible to transfer and would not have to sit out a year and would have two years of eligibility remaining. Our information is that Coker will announce at the end of the month.
Bottom line: with approximately a half dozen men who were all highly-recruited quarterbacks, who can doubt that Saban and company won't come up with another winner?