For the second time in as many years, Alabama—which has long been known for quarterback stability—is embroiled in one of the fiercest quarterback battles of the offseason.
Senior Jake Coker, junior Alec Morris, sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell and true freshman Blake Barnett are all squaring off to win the top spot on the depth chart, with Coker and Cornwell apparently separating from the field at the conclusion of spring practice.
Should the veteran Coker get the nod, or is Cornwell the man for Alabama in 2015 and moving forward?
Head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin should roll with Cornwell.
Youth Gone Wild
Bill Haber/Associated Press
Alabama QB David Cornwell
There’s no such thing as a rebuilding year in Tuscaloosa; the Crimson Tide just reload. But in this specific situation with the youth across the roster on the offensive side of the ball, it’s possible for Alabama to rebuild/reload while also planning for the future.
In former Bleacher Report Alabama lead writer Marc Torrence’s post-spring depth chart projections, there are young skill players littered all over the place.
Projected starting wide receivers (and co-stars of the spring game) Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart are sophomores, fellow wide receiver Chris Black is a junior and Alabama only has two senior wide receivers—graduate transfer Richard Mullaney and former walk-on Parker Barrineau.
If the story of the Crimson Tide offense is going to be “youth,” Kiffin and Saban should go for it.
Plus, it’s not like Cornwell is battling with a veteran who has significant game experience. After all that we heard about Coker coming in, he attempted just 59 passes last year—most of which came in mop-up duty and against cupcakes.
There’s going to be a steep learning curve for whichever quarterback Kiffin goes with, so if it’s close, why not go with the player who has the eligibility clock working in his favor?
So Different, Yet so the Same
Butch Dill/Associated Press
Alabama QBs Jake Coker (14) Blake Barnett (6) and David Cornwell (12)
If the battle does indeed boil down to Coker vs. Cornwell during fall camp, it might seem like it’s a battle between two polar opposites.
The veteran vs. the rookie.
The nomad vs. the homegrown talent.
The backup vs. the upstart.
None of that is true. In fact, Coker and Cornwell are incredibly similar. Both stand tall in the pocket at 6’5″, both can move more than they get credit for, both have fought through leg injuries (Coker’s meniscus and Cornwell’s ACL/ankle) and both have cannons.
One of Cornwell’s biggest attributes coming out of high school was arm strength that 247Sports rated as a “nine” out of 10. I saw firsthand Coker sling it 60 yards with relative ease before the West Virginia game after just a few minutes of warm-up with that knee wrapped.
If the race is close and the two players are similar, wouldn’t it be wise to go with the one with the most room to grow? Without a doubt, the one with the most room to grow would be Cornwell. After all, if it were Coker, wouldn’t he have won the job last year?
Moving On Up
Cornwell sits at the unquestioned No. 2 after spring practice, and if you don’t find that overly impressive, you should probably think again.
He enrolled at Alabama in January 2014 as a 4-star pro-style prospect, fresh off of a torn ACL suffered during his senior season of high school football in Norman, Oklahoma. He rehabbed during his first few months in Tuscaloosa and participated in some work last spring.
After spring practice, he underwent surgery to repair an ankle injury. According to Marq Burnett of the Anniston Star, he never really felt comfortable after that surgery until midway through his redshirt season of 2014.
“It’s been great,” Cornwell told Burnett in January. “Great experience with coach (Lane) Kiffin and coach (Nick) Saban. Coach (Scott) Cochran has been a part of it. I’ve lost some weight and got healthy finally.”
That’s important, because the first time that the coaching staff got a look at Cornwell at 100 percent in college, it was this spring. All he did was elevate himself to a clear-cut No. 2 in a five-man quarterback battle that included players with much more game and practice experience than he had coming in.
If Cornwell was able to make up that much ground in half of a spring practice session, that tells me that he has impressed the staff far more than expected and has a ton of momentum heading into summer workouts. If he’s a close No. 2 now with all the momentum, the best is yet to come and his ceiling hasn’t been reached.
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Alabama QB David Cornwell
For the second straight spring game, the Crimson Tide offense left a lot to be desired.
According to stats released by the University, Coker completed 14 of 28 passes for 183 yards, one touchdown and one interception playing with the first-team offense against the first-team defense, while Cornwell connected on 12 of 24 passes for 110 yards, one touchdown and two picks with the “twos.”
Who will be Alabama’s starting QB?
Neither quarterback looked comfortable and Cornwell took two sacks, but Saban went out of his way to compliment Cornwell and everybody with the second team based on the specific setup of the spring game.
“This game was set up to try to look at the quarterbacks, to try to give them an opportunity,” he said in quotes released by Alabama. “I think the guys that played with the second team, because of the offensive line, was not up to snuff and where it needs to be, relative to the second defensive line. They probably didn’t have the same opportunity to have success.“
That’s not coach speak. He’s exactly right.
Alabama’s two-deep in the defensive front seven is as loaded as any team in the country, while even its first-team offensive line is looking to plug holes and stabilize itself.
Is the second-team offensive line going to hold off that pass rush? That’s not likely. At least, not in spring practice.
It seems like Saban and the staff have more faith in Cornwell than it appears on the surface, which bodes well for his future.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports’ composite rankings.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.
Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.