ATLANTA — The Lane Kiffin 3.0 offense at Alabama is a work in progress after spring practice, with the quarterback position being the main circuit to the system.
Junior Cooper Bateman, sophomore David Cornwell, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and true freshman Jalen Hurts are all vying for the top spot on the depth chart exiting spring practice, and they didn’t create much separation this spring.
While speaking at the College Football Hall of Fame prior to accepting the MacArthur Bowl from the National Football Foundation for winning the national title, head coach Nick Saban commented on what the goals for his quarterbacks are over the next three months prior to fall camp.
“Somebody has got to take the bull by the horns, and sort of win the team over,” he said. “That’s not something that I can make happen or something that I can do for them.”
That didn’t happen last year until the middle of September.
Jake Coker started games against Wisconsin and Middle Tennessee before Bateman got the start against Ole Miss at home in the SEC opener in an attempt to get a little more athleticism on the field.
It didn’t work.
Bateman was pulled after the Crimson Tide dug themselves a big hole, and Coker nearly led a miraculous comeback—falling just short in the 43-37 loss.
Consider that Plan B in the blueprint for Alabama football.
“The summertime, when they come back from Memorial Day, is certainly a time when leadership has a chance to flourish because the coaches aren’t around as much and aren’t allowed to be out there when they are working out,” Saban said.
The four contenders for the job are all ultra-talented.
Bateman, a former 4-star prospect out of Utah, is a pro-style passer who can move enough that he worked a bit at wide receiver last spring.
At 6’5″, 234 pounds, Cornwell is the prototypical big-bodied pro-style passer who can sling the ball a mile and get the tough yards on the ground if needed.
Barnett has the most upside of the group. The 6’5″, 200-pounder was classified as a dual threat at one point during his recruitment but re-classified as a 5-star pocket passer prior to his senior year, and he can blend the traditional offense the Crimson Tide were successful with in 2015 with some of the zone-read elements Blake Sims ran in 2014.
Hurts is the hotshot true freshman who showed in the spring game that he can make the tough throws on the run and could be a weapon on the ground.
The crowded quarterback room could lead to players getting distracted by competition rather than focusing on winning the job based on their own play.
“The big thing that I cautioned them about was, ‘Are you really focused on what you need to do to be a successful quarterback by making good choices and decisions?'” Saban said. “‘I don’t want you to focus on looking over your shoulder at who you’re competing against all the time, which sometimes can affect how you compete.’
“I want them to focus on what they need to do to be successful.”
The ace up Saban’s sleeve is Kiffin, who led Alabama to a program record in total offense in 2014 (484.5 yards per game), won a national title in 2015 and SEC titles in both of his seasons in Tuscaloosa.
“He does an outstanding job for us,” Saban said. “He’s done a good job with two quarterbacks who we’ve had who have been one-year starters and have had limited experience. I think he’s done a good job of teaching our players, and our players really buy into what we’re trying to do on offense and believe in the philosophy.”
With four quarterback contenders—all with multiple years of eligibility left—the eventual losers of the quarterback battle could become huge transfer risks.
“Hopefully, they’re all committed to their team and to Alabama, and continue to compete in that regard,” Saban said.
The next three months are crucial to the identity of the Alabama offense.
With USC lined up in the opener in Arlington, Texas, a revenge game against a potent Ole Miss offense that can force a shootout in Week 3 and even a trick sandwich game against the Western Kentucky Air Raid offense that can put some points on the board, Plan A for Alabama—coming to a quarterback resolution during fall camp—is more important now than any of the other battles under Saban.
That process is still ongoing.
“We’re not disappointed where we are right now,” Saban said while on stage accepting the MacArthur Bowl from the National Football Foundation, “but we’re not satisfied either.”
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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