TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — On the same day that Southern California announced that junior quarterback Max Browne will make his first career start on Sept. 3 against Alabama at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the Crimson Tide did not reciprocate in kind.
Following Alabama’s second and final fall scrimmage, head coach Nick Saban not only gave no hint about which Crimson Tide quarterback might eventually start in the opener, he didn’t even use any of their names during his press conference.
“The person that can play with the most consistency is the guy that’s going to have the best opportunity to lead us in the first game, and I can’t really say that one guy sticks out right now,” Saban said Saturday afternoon.
Although Alabama can essentially play a shell game now because the three contenders have different skill sets, the head coach had hoped to have at least a front-runner between junior Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and true freshman Jalen Hurts by now.
Instead, it’s still a three-man race with very little, if any, separation.
“I think the big word there that I’d like to use with these guys is consistency,” Saban said. “One day or two days in a row, it will look like one guy is starting to sort of forge ahead a little bit. Then two days later somebody else seems to have a good day or two, and it makes you think maybe this is the guy who’s the guy starting to take the bull by the horns and is going to be the guy.”
At this point, it wouldn’t be surprising to see all three play this season. To oversimplify their qualifications, Bateman is the veteran, Barnett the prodigy and Hurts the most electric. Saban said that each is “capable” but still making too many crucial mistakes.
“You can’t make the plays that lose the game,” he said.
“Those are the kind of plays that we have to eliminate. Understanding the situation, whether it’s two-minute, and you take off running and the clock runs out rather than throwing it to the read that you have, those kind of things are what the players have to understand and be able to do with more consistency.”
When asked specifically if he would have a problem starting a freshman, Saban said that the maturity a quarterback plays with and his decision-making and judgment trump physical age.
“Now, if a guy plays quarterback and he’s a young player, I think that it will require us having patience in his development and not asking him to do things that he’s not ready to do,” he said.
Alabama didn’t release any statistics from the scrimmage, which has become its norm during a quarterback competition.
Defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson (ankle), linebacker Keith Holcombe (ankle) and wide receiver Cam Sims (knee) were all kept out of the scrimmage for precautionary reasons.
“We wanted to take advantage of giving him some down time to help him get back to 100 percent because he was having a really good camp,” Saban said about Sims, who missed last season due to a knee injury and felt some soreness last week.
“We didn‘t have anybody get seriously injured today.”
Players will have Sunday off and not practice on Monday, but the coaches will be busy making numerous personnel decisions, including which players will likely contribute this season and who will be targeted for redshirts.
Alabama’s concerns about secondary depth have only magnified with the abrupt departure of cornerback Kendall Sheffield, who is already on the roster at Blinn College in Texas.
The former 5-star prospect in 247Sports’ ratings had been competing to be the Crimson Tide’s third cornerback, who could frequently play in the nickel and dime packages when extra defensive backs are required. Instead, he left Alabama just before classes began for the fall semester and transferred.
“We’ve always been a tight knit group,” sophomore cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “When people leave, it’s upsetting, but you can’t do anything but wish them the best. We’re pretty young and old in the secondary at the same time.”
With junior cornerback Tony Brown to miss the start of the season due to an NCAA suspension and Shawn Burgess-Becker (UCF) and Maurice Smith (Georgia) having also transferred, speedy junior Anthony Averett could land a rotation spot after having a good training camp.
Meanwhile, true freshmen Jared Mayden and Aaron Robinson have been working with the second unit, freshman wide receiver Trevon Diggs has been splitting time at safety and linebacker Keaton Anderson has been taking some reps at safety as well.
“We’re just basically trying guys,” said Saban but added about two reserve safeties: “I’ve been really encouraged by Hootie Jones and Deionte Thompson.”
• For the second straight week, a downpour welcomed the team at Bryant-Denny Stadium, but this time it was so intense that players were pulled from the field and the scrimmage delayed. Saban said it led to a bit of a slow start when everyone got back on the field after sitting for a while in the locker room.
• Look for the recruiting class of 2016 to make a bigger splash this season than initially expected. “We’ll probably have more freshmen play this year maybe than we’ve had for a while around here,” Saban said. “We feel good about some of them. They got a long way to go, but we lost a lot of good players.” Alabama played 12 true freshmen and nine redshirt freshmen last season. Its average is 10.3 and 8.9, respectively, since Saban arrived in 2007.
•While Alabama’s receiving tight ends, led by senior O.J. Howard, have been getting a lot of attention, senior Brandon Greene appears to finally have found a niche with his blocking. “That position was a concern for us a year ago,” Saban said. “O.J. Howard always being an outstanding player and someone we could count on but not having a second guy that could be a blocker and kind of a guy that could complement him. I don’t think that’s an issue now.”
• The team’s feel-good moment of the week was walk-on linebacker Jamey Mosley, the younger brother of 2013 Butkus Award winner C.J. Mosley, being given a scholarship. “Jamey earned this on his own,” Saban said. “He’s worked really hard, he gives great effort in practice. When I announced it last night to the team, there was a roar that went up. It’s heartfelt for me.”
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.
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