While there are plenty of intriguing storylines surrounding Alabama entering spring practice, the race to eventually find the successor to quarterback AJ McCarron is chief among Nick Saban’s priorities.
Even though the battle won’t be decided until Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrives on campus in the summer, five signal-callers head into spring with designs on staking a claim to take the first snap of the season against West Virginia on Aug. 30.
As Andrew Gribble of AL.com noted, Nick Saban is in no hurry to name a starter, which means that spring practice is only the first leg of what should be a lengthy battle.
However, new Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will not be suffering from a lack of options or talent.
Senior Blake Sims has seen the most action in games, but the underclassmen trio of Cooper Bateman, Alec Morris and Parker McLeod all have the benefit of having at least one spring practice under their belts.
Meanwhile, early enrollee David Cornwell may have the most physical gifts of the bunch.
What does each player bring to the table, and what can they do to earn a leg up on the quarterback job exiting the spring?
Fifth-year senior Blake Sims will certainly have the edge in experience when compared to his counterparts in this derby.
Over the last two seasons as McCarron’s primary backup, Sims has rushed for 248 yards and two scores and passed for 244 yards and two touchdowns.
Sims has proven himself to be an effective playmaker with his legs, but in order for him to win the starting job, he will have to prove that he can push the ball downfield and make big plays as a passer from the pocket.
However, as his less-than-stellar effort in last year’s spring game (52 yards passing, two interceptions and no touchdowns) illustrated, that has been a skill that Sims has yet to consistently demonstrate in his limited action to date.
Another passer who needs to approach this spring with a sense of urgency is redshirt sophomore Alec Morris.
Morris flashed a big-time arm in last year’s A-Day game completing 10 of his 18 passes for 141 yards without a touchdown or an interception. His performance drew praise from Saban afterward, as noted by RollTide.com.
However, he was unable to carryover that momentum to fall practice and subsequently failed to make an impact last season.
Morris has the physical tools and the arm-strength necessary to be an SEC-caliber passer. However, whether he has the leadership skills and intangible qualities that are required to succeed at Alabama remains to be seen.
At this time a year ago, Cooper Bateman was still adjusting to life in college while preparing for his first spring practice at Alabama.
Now, after a redshirt year, the spring spotlight is clearly on Bateman to seize the moment before it potentially passes him by, as noted by B/R’s Barrett Sallee.
Bateman has a big-time arm and is a capable athlete, but he has to show that he can handle the speed of the game while showcasing the ability to make good and quick decisions.
Whether or not he has completed his adjustment from playing prep ball in Utah to the rugged landscape in the SEC will be on full display over the next month’s practices.
Like Bateman, Parker McLeod enrolled last January, went through spring drills and ended up taking a redshirt last season.
McLeod can get ahead in this race if he proves that he can thrive in the game manager role that Saban has chosen to employ at the position in years past.
However, that element cannot come at the expense of failing to show the ability to attack defenses vertically.
At 6’5”, 241 pounds, true freshman early enrollee David Cornwell already stands out as the biggest candidate to throw his hat in the ring for the Tide’s starting quarterback job.
However, as Gribble points out, every quarterback that Nick Saban has signed at Alabama has taken a redshirt in their first season on the college level. Additionally, the fact that Cornwell is still recovering from a torn ACL makes it likely for that streak to continue.
Although, given Cornwell’s size and skill set (2,745 yards passing and 755 yards rushing as a senior), he’s an enticing option in a race without a true front-runner.
If the experienced options ahead of him falter, and he can prove that he is 100 percent health-wise, Saban and Kiffin may give the young and gifted passer with unlimited potential a strong chance to earn the starting job.
Projected Depth Chart Post-Spring Practice
1. Blake Sims, Senior
2. Cooper Bateman, RS Freshman
3. Alec Morris, RS Sophomore
4. David Cornwell, Freshman
5. Parker McLeod
Perhaps the defining moment of the new marriage between Saban and Kiffin will be how this quarterback competition is handled.
Given Saban’s history during his coaching career, expect his opinion to ultimately hold the most weight in determining who exits spring atop the Tide’s depth chart at quarterback.
In a wide-open competition such as this one, Sims’ familiarity and experience in the Tide’s system bode well in helping him earn the slight nod in the event none of the players are able to gain separation by the end of the spring.