ATLANTA – Time to get some answers about Alabama’s quarterback competition.
Florida State transfer Jake Coker and fifth-year senior Blake Sims have been vying for the top job throughout preseason practice and coach Nick Saban says they have been running neck-and-neck. The second-ranked Crimson Tide’s opener against West Virginia at the Georgia Dome on Saturday is probably another audition for both.
“I think it’s our responsibility to give both guys an opportunity,” Saban said. “That’s how we recruit players to come here, that they’re all going to get a fair opportunity to play. We’re going to choose the best players that give our team the best opportunity to be successful based on how they perform. Both guys have performed well, and Blake has performed very, very well.”
Where exactly this leaves Alabama at the most important position on the field is anybody’s guess.
Coker came to Alabama after serving one season as Florida State’s backup to Jameis Winston. Seminoles coaches insist that Coker gave the eventual Heisman Trophy winner a legitimate run for the starting job before last season.
Coker arrived in Tuscaloosa with much hype as the presumptive replacement for AJ McCarron. Saban did his best to knock down those assumptions.
Sims’ career numbers: 23 of 39 for 244 yards and two touchdowns. Coker’s line: 21 for 41, 295, one TD, one interception. Sims is more mobile at 6-foot-0 and 208 pounds. Coker is bigger at 6-5, 230.
Alabama either has two good quarterbacks or two not-good-enough quarterbacks.
Should Tide fans be worried?
Given all Alabama’s playmakers, whomever is taking snaps for should be supported about as well as any quarterback in the country. T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake are all among the best backs in the Southeastern Conference. Wide receiver Amari Cooper is a potential All-American, as is tight end O.J. Howard.
Also, the last time the Tide went into a season with an unsettled quarterback situation, it won the national championship in McCarron’s first year as a starter.
So the Tide faithful probably shouldn’t stress too much. But this is Bama, where seasons without championships are not taken lightly.
And unsteady quarterback can send even the most finely tuned machine careering off the road to the College Football Playoff and into a Capital One Bowl ditch.
Some other things to know about the first meeting between Alabama and West Virginia.
Oh yeah, West Virginia
The Mountaineers are here, too. Coming off a dreary 4-8 season, West Virginia has a chance to change the trajectory of a program that’s been heading in the wrong direction under fourth-year coach Dana Holgorsen.
It’s not a good chance – the Mountaineers are 26½-point underdogs – but the opportunity is there.
“You know it’s the first game, you’ve been hitting each other all camp, you want to hit someone else,” quarterback Clint Trickett said. “Add to the fact that it’s, you know, a team that’s almost been a dynasty, a team that’s you know, a very well built program you know and we know how good they are and we’re going to show them how good we are.”
West Virginia does have one thing Alabama does not: a clear No. 1 quarterback. Trickett, another Florida State transfer, never was able to grab hold of the job last year because of injuries.
With good health and a year in Holgorsen’s Air Raid system, the Mountaineers are hoping to regain some of the explosiveness they had when Geno Smith was slinging it around Morgantown.
There’s been almost no D at West Virginia for the last two years. The Mountaineers ranked 112th in the nation in yards per play in 2012 and 92nd last year. This season Tony Gibson takes over as coordinator and former Penn State coordinator Tom Bradley was also added to the staff. The new scheme is a 3-3-5 which is supposed to take advantage of West Virginia’s skill and speed at linebacker and defensive back. It’s a defense built to stop Big 12 spread offenses – which are nothing like Alabama’s attack.
About that Alabama offense
Former Southern California coach Lane Kiffin is now the man in charge. Surely, Tide fans will have patience with him if the offense sputters a bit out of the gate.
Alabama middle linebacker Trey DePriest will sit out the opener for an undisclosed NCAA infraction.