TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Although the University of Alabama held its first scrimmage of the fall on Saturday, the big news from it didn’t emerge until Monday morning when senior quarterback Jake Coker wasn’t on the field for the first practice of a two-a-day.
Just after noon Alabama released the following statement from Nick Saban: “Jake Coker has a minor foot injury that we think will keep him out of practice for several days. Our physicians anticipate a full recovery.”
Although the prognosis was mostly good news in that Coker appears to have avoided a potentially serious setback, the timing couldn’t have been worse, as this is the most important week of training camp for the quarterback competition.
Last year Blake Sims won the starting job with his performance in the second camp scrimmage. This camp’s version will be held this upcoming Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The coach will likely discuss the team’s approach at the position during his next press conference on Wednesday afternoon. Coker is competing with junior Alec Morris, sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell and true freshman Blake Barnett but is the only one of the five to have attempted a pass in a game.
Morris doubles as the backup punter, while Bateman is the holder for the kickers.
To give an idea of how unusual the situation is: Alabama hasn’t had a starting quarterback miss a start since Saban arrived in 2007.
Alabama didn’t release any statistics from the first scrimmage, and afterward Saban said, “I can’t really say that one guy was better than another.” He also didn’t mention Coker’s injury, making it likely that it was discovered after the scrimmage.
“Offensively, I think we got better as the day went on in terms of how we competed, how we played,” Saban said. “A lot of the success that we had in the scrimmage offensively came toward the end of the scrimmage. We made some plays, got some confidence and that kind of got people going. Which, I think when you have young players and a lot of new players that’s something that is really important for them to be able to gain.”
Otherwise, Alabama appears to have avoided any major injury setbacks during training camp:
- Coaches are being cautious with senior running back Kenyan Drake (hamstring), and freshman Bo Scarbrough (knee) has been limited. Scarbrough will also serve a four-game eligibility suspension in September.
- Junior wide receiver Chris Black is close to returning from a sprained ankle. Sophomore Robert Foster suffered a sprained knee in the scrimmage but was back practicing on Monday. Alabama is already without sophomore Cam Sims (knee) and junior Raheem Falkins (leg).
- Redshirt freshman cornerback Marlon Humphrey (“pulled muscle”) is still limited.
- Reserve redshirt freshman offensive lineman Josh Casher (torn pectoral) remains out. Freshman tackle Lester Cotton missed some practice time with an undisclosed injury. Freshman defensive lineman Anfernee Jennings (back) has yet to start practicing with the team.
Taking it easy on the running backs
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Alabama can’t afford to have another setback in the backfield.
With Alabama having some depth concerns at running back, in addition to the quarterback competition, the focus during the first scrimmage was on the passing game.
“I didn’t really want to see anything from the running backs, if you want to know the truth about it,” Saban said. “We wanted Derrick Henry to carry the ball six times. I’ve seen him carry the ball enough not to make him go out and prove himself in a scrimmage that means nothing to no one.”
Instead, younger players like true freshman Damien Harris, who could be pressed into service early, and redshirt freshman Ronnie Clark have been getting extra reps.
“I think he learned today what it takes to play college football, which is a good thing, and he had some production,” Saban said about Davis. “Ronnie same thing. Some of the young guys really got an opportunity and I think that’s a good thing.
The name is Minkah
Which Alabama newcomer will see the field first this fall?
The surprise of camp has been cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick, who hasn’t been playing like a true freshman.
“Minkah’s done a really, really good job,” Saban said. “He’s very instinctive and learns quickly, understands concepts. He’s probably going to a be a guy that, if he continues to progress, could make some contribution for us this year.”
Fitzpatrick was rated a 5-star prospect in the Class of 2015 by 247Sports but 4-star in its composite rankings. Regardless, the prospect out of St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey, was considered one of the top 50 players in the nation.
“You can tell he’s focused in,” senior linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “Most freshmen hit that wall when they first get into camp and he hasn’t hit that wall yet. He’s still out there focused in, looking good, moving around like he’s been doing that for years.”
Crimson Tide bits
• Ragland has been getting some work in at outside linebacker to be a pass-rusher in certain situations. “I can do more than play inside linebacker,” he said. “If I can show that I can pass-rush and get to the quarterback, we can do a bunch of other stuff too.”
• Prior to his hamstring injury Drake was also trying his hand at kick returner: “I feel pretty comfortable,” he said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do since coming here, but obviously we had a pretty seasoned veteran at kick return in Christion Jones before. So just having the opportunity to do that now, as long as—the most important thing is ball security—so as long as you can maintain the ball and make plays at the same time, you can be successful.”
• Saban called sophomore ArDarius Stewart the offense’s most consistent wide receiver. “I think he’s the next guy that we need to sort of be the man when it comes to playing receiver and playing with consistency.” True freshman Calvin Ridley appears to be on pace to land a rotation spot.
• Fall semester classes begin on the Alabama campus on Wednesday.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.