TUSCALOOSA — If there’s one aspect of being a quarterback that University of Alabama senior Blake Sims clearly has down, it’s saying the right things.
For example, when asked last week if he had a favorite receiver yet, Sims didn’t blink and said “No” to the reporter.
“I love all my receivers.”
Of course, on Saturday, junior Amari Cooper easily topped all the receivers during the Crimson Tide’s first spring scrimmage by making 10 receptions for 190 yards and two touchdowns.
While only the statistical leaders of the closed session at Bryant-Denny Stadium were released to reporters, no one else had more than three catches (wide receiver Christion Jones and reserve running back Altee Tenpenny) or 48 yards (early enrollee wide receiver Cam Sims).
Similarly, when it comes to trying to measure the quarterback competition, fans finally have a sort of leaderboard, with Sims out in front after completing 16 of 23 passes (69.6 percent) for 277 yards and two touchdowns, along with Nick Saban’s post-practice comments.
|Crimson Tide passing leaders from Saturday's scrimmage|
|Blake Sims||16 of 23||227||2|
|Cooper Bateman||14 of 25||102||0|
|Alec Morris||9 of 12||57||0|
|The University of Alabama|
“The quarterbacks really did a good job,” the coach said. “I think the stats are pretty good for what they were able to accomplish. They’ve been pretty consistent throughout the spring. I think that, as a team, when we get in certain situations, we have not been able to respond very well, and I think that it’s a matter of the whole team.
“The pass protection needs to be better. The quarterback’s gotta do a little bit better job. So when we’re in play action, move the field, running it, throwing it, getting the ball out of our hand quick, we do a nice job. But we get too much pressure in the pocket, so the quarterbacks can’t operate, which we’ve got to get cleaned up with the offensive line so that the guys have a better chance to function.”
With three-year starter AJ McCarron now preparing for the NFL draft, Saban is looking for just his fourth starting quarterback since arriving in 2007. Sims was the primary backup last season, so he’s the closest thing to an incumbent.
Because Jacob Coker won’t transfer until after graduation from Florida State next month, the competition is already guaranteed to go into the fall. However, all of the other contenders—sophomore Alec Morris, redshirt freshmen Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod and early enrollee David Cornwell, who is coming off a torn ACL sustained last fall—are much younger.
“It's going to be a good competition,” senior safety Nick Perry predicted. “You have Blake Sims, who is an experienced guy. Then you have Alec Morris, who is a gunslinger. You have Bateman, who's more of a Greg McElroy type, AJ McCarron type.”
Blake Sims, a converted running back, has played in 23 games for the Crimson Tide, including eight last season when he completed 18 of 29 passes for 167 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also had 15 carries for 61 rushing yards, which is significant, because the previous year, he had a real propensity for tucking the ball and running.
In 2012, he had 30 carries for 187 yards and two touchdowns compared to attempting 10 passes and completing five for 77 yards in mop-up duty.
“That’s a work in progress for Blake,” Saban said earlier this spring. “I thought he made significant progress last year. I think that that’s one thing that we want to evaluate and know that he needs to progress in is his ability to be a more consistent passer, especially in the system that we implement now.”
That system, under new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Lane Kiffin, is designed to run the ball and create explosive plays. It’s primarily geared for a pro-style passer, but there’s no reason to think that a dual-threat quarterback can’t be successful in the scheme as well.
Saban’s had dual-threat quarterbacks before, just not with the Crimson Tide.
“There are two plays with Blake—the one they call on offense and then when that one doesn't go right, it's the one he makes with his feet,” Perry continued. “We've seen that in college football and even in the NFL with players like Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel. He's a dangerous player.”
During their spring breaks, Coker, who battled Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston for the FSU starting gig, was in Tuscaloosa working on learning the Alabama offense, while Sims, ironically, went to Florida to get in some extra work at the Mastrole Passing Academy.
The two things he especially wanted to improve upon were his footwork and ability to read defenses, particularly when not in the shotgun.
“It worked out very well,” Sims said. “My footwork got better and accuracy, and I got a good relationship with Ken Mastrole and hopefully I get the opportunity to do it again.”
While there’s no guarantee that anyone will win the job by the end of training camp—McCarron didn’t finally beat out Phillip Sims until after the 2011 regular season started—Blake Sims is at least poised for two more weeks of spring practices and A-Day on April 19th followed by a summer of drills and film work.
In his words, it’s a “Once in a lifetime opportunity,” and early indications are that he more than passed the first big test with the scrimmage, when the initial pecking order began to emerge.
“Blake has had a really good spring and has taken some command,” Saban said. “Cooper Bateman has made a lot of improvement. He’s done a nice job. Alec’s still competing. Those three guys have sort of emerged as the three guys that look like they’re most ready to play.”
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.