By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Sept. 6, 2014
Nick Saban is loved by Alabama fans for many things, not the least of which is his brusque treatment of the media.
But in his post-game press statements following Alabama’s rain-shortened 41-0 romp over Florida Atlantic, he had a message for fans who have a specific favorite in the ongoing battle for Alabama’s quarterback position: Basically, shut up.
Saban’s comments to the media were direct, but even more direct was his address to the fans while on the postgame radio show with Phil Savage and Eli Gold. Saban doesn’t care who someone’s favorite quarterback is. And he seemed annoyed that people would be picking favorites.
We’ve touched on this phenomena before, how Alabama fans treat Saban’s brushbacks like Kevin Bacon’s character Chip treated paddle licks during Omega initiation in “Animal House” – thank you coach, may we have another?
The problem is, telling fans to stifle themselves is sort of outside the scope of Saban’s influence. Fans are talking about the quarterback battle and are going to continue to talk about it all year, particularly when both players bring unique talents to the table.
Blake Sims looks very little like the quarterback who backed up A.J. McCarron the past two years. In those years, he was little more than a zone-read quarterback offering a change of pace to Alabama’s pro-style attack. Fans doubted his ability to make reads, to get the ball out quickly, or to keep cool under fire. But Sims has reinvented himself over the past nine eight months, and while he still has to past a test of fire from a high-level SEC defense, his production and poise bear little resemblance to that of his past.
Jake Coker, on the other hand, has the kind of arm strength scouts dream of finding, and his build is ideal for the pounding quarterbacks take in the SEC. Alabama saw Coker in live action for the first time Saturday, and some of his throws conjured pleasant memories of Brodie Croyle and the shoulder cannon he possessed.
But not everything came up roses. Sims mis-called a goal-line run and fumbled the exchange to T.J. Yeldon as a result. Coker made several misreads and questionable throws.
For that reason, the quarterback battle will continue to be talked about, even if Saban were to name a full-time starter. And if one were to take his comments at face value, he might not do it. If Alabama needs a slowdown offense out of the huddle, Coker might be the man. If the Crimson Tide decides to go with its own version of the HUNH – call it the “no huddle, slow it down” offense that doesn’t amp the tempo much but does limit substitutions – then Blake Sims is likely to be the man.
- Sims may have separated himself a bit from Coker. At the risk of meeting Saban’s flamethrower head-on, in our opinion, Blake Sims showed exactly why he played 99 percent of the West Virginia game: poise. Sims showed better feel for the clock, better control of the playbook, better judgment after the snap. Coker, meanwhile, misplayed at least two drives in FAU territory, running himself out of time at the end of the first half (and passing up a field goal chance in the process), then failing to pull the trigger in time on a pass to tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith for what would have likely been a touchdown. A long pass to Amari Cooper was terribly late and underthrown, but on the other hand, he should have had a long touchdown to ArDarius Stewart later in the game had Stewart not cut down the route. On several occasions, Lane Kiffin could be seen having a minor meltdown after Coker missed a check at the line or failed to get a player into the proper position. Coker also did some things Sims hasn’t shown he’s able to do – deep seam throws with zip, for instance – but given the intangibles Sims brings to the position, in addition to his knowledge of the offense, superior running ability and fewer mental mistakes, it seems Sims will have to do something to lose the right to start at this point.
- Youth is served on the defensive line. Alabama’s most effective defensive alignment Saturday may have been the one with Rashaan Evans and Tim Williams playing together as edge rushers, with Josh Frazier, Dalvin Tomlinson and Da’Shawn Hand on the line. If you’re counting, that’s two sophomores and three true freshmen. Alabama has basically one more week to figure out how to put the brakes on a hurry-up, no-huddle offense before Florida comes to town and potentially wrecks the season. Alabama has looked much more effective by going small on the edges than by bringing in the beef.
- But Alabama still needs a veteran presence on defense. And most specifically, that presence is Trey DePriest. Replacing Reuben Foster with DePriest at middle linebacker shored up a lot of shortcomings in terms of linebacker play, an encouraging development given that DePriest isn’t the ideal anti-HUNH middle linebacker. The key, however, remains the development of Reggie Ragland, who had an acceptable day at weakside linebacker. If DePriest were to get hurt at this point, the defense would suffer greatly for it. On a side note, Eddie Jackson’s return at cornerback was evident to everyone and if he stays healthy, could develop into a shutdown boundary corner.
- Young receivers making a push for more playing time. ArDarius Stewart may be one of the best receivers Alabama has ever had in terms of using his body to create separation at the point of the catch. Chris Black, although not technically a newcomer, is blossoming now that he is finally getting playing time. These are important developments given that DeAndrew White is out for the rest of the month and Christion Jones might be held back a bit next week thanks to a hard shot he took to his ankle. Black started in White’s place against FAU and caught 3 passes for 45 yards, not to mention doing a good job shedding coverage. Stewart caught 3 passes for 63 yards and, as noted above, would have gone over the 100-yard mark and recorded a score had he finished a deep route. With Jones not only hurt, but continuing to have trouble catching the ball consistently, the opportunity exists for a younger player to step up and steal some snaps. Cameron Sims got plentiful playing time against FAU, and fans should expect to see more of Robert Foster and Raheem Falkins in coming weeks.
- Tight end still a mystery, though. O.J. Howard may simply be not as good as a lot of people thought he was going to be. He’s still much slimmer than Brian Vogler, and his on-the-line blocking still needs work. But Howard has also had a difficult time getting open. Contrast Howard with JUCO transfer Ty Flournoy-Smith, who caught a pass in this game and also got wide open for a second one that Jake Coker misthrew. This one’s a real head-scratcher and there may not be a solution for it other than feeding Howard a ton of cheeseburgers and making him a true Y. In the interim, Alabama will either have to involve other players at the position, or scheme Howard at H or maybe even Z receiver.