TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Today is the day, you see.
University of Alabama football fans are used to having things to look forward to during the offseason, including days that are the equivalent to unofficial holiday—and celebrating them as much or more than the real ones.
Recent Januarys have featured some national championship celebrations. National signing day can be like Christmas all over again for recruitniks and eerily similar in the early-morning hours. Last month, 73,506 people still showed up for A-Day even though for many there was the huge scheduling conflict of it being held on Easter weekend.
Nevertheless, today, Friday, May 2, is the day that many Crimson Tide fans have been looking forward to the most this offseason. It’s the last day of finals/classes for the spring semester, followed by graduation ceremonies.
But it’s not the commencement exercises on the Capstone that’s been their focus, but rather those that’ll be held 300 miles to the southeast at Florida State, where quarterback Jacob Coker will subsequently no longer be enrolled.
Assuming that he did enough to fulfill his final academic obligations, Coker will have his degree, which means per NCAA rules that when he arrives in Tuscaloosa over the weekend and completes his transfer, the former three-star prospect out of St. Paul's Episcopal in Mobile, Alabama, will be eligible to play in the fall.
Thus, the competition to replace three-year starter AJ McCarron begins in earnest on Monday.
"Basically, we’re talking about learning a system so that he has a chance to be able to, when the opportunity comes in August, have a better chance of going out and feeling comfortable and playing with confidence and developing the physical skills to implement the things that we want to do, which probably aren’t as different as people would like to make them from what he has done,” said Nick Saban on the SEC coaches spring teleconference with reporters Wednesday morning.
“But it’s just the idea of terminology and understanding and feeling comfortable in the system that we have. The learning curve is going to be steep, but he’s a bright young guy. He’s got experience and knowledge in a similar system, so we’re hoping we can make it a smooth transition for him."
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Coker is switching schools so he doesn’t potentially spend the rest of his collegiate career behind Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, and his soon-to-be-former team is coached by a former Saban assistant coach, Jimbo Fisher, who does many of the same things as his mentor.
He’ll have a month of simply getting acclimated. Then he'll jump into summer workouts in June. The Crimson Tide have nearly 100 days until fall camp opens, followed by the neutral-site game in Atlanta against West Virginia on Aug. 30.
Considering what happened in 2011 between McCarron and Phillip Sims, a competition that wasn’t resolved until Week 2 against Penn State, it wouldn’t be surprising if no one is declared the starter until after the regular season begins so coaches can fully gauge how Coker and senior Blake Sims handle running the offense.
About the only thing they have in common is that neither has a whole lot of experience as they’ve combined to attempt 80 passes at the collegiate level, and neither has made a start.
The 6’0” Sims is a fifth-year senior who has played in 23 games and has made it clear that he’s up for the challenge. The converted running back put in the time during the offseason, and during spring break he worked with a private quarterbacks coach, Ken Mastrole.
“Blake has made a big step up from last year to right now, especially with taking on the role of starting quarterback,” wide receiver Chris Black said near the end of spring practices. “I’m proud of him with that.”
However, during the only time he performed in front of fans as the starter Sims was pressing and got off to a rocky start on A-Day. With a scaled-down playbook against the first-unit defense, he completed 13-of-30 passes for 178 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, while redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman was 11-of-24 for 156 yards, one touchdown and zero picks versus the reserves.
Afterward Saban said: “We did make some plays, but there wasn’t the consistency that you would like to see in the offense.”
Coker was watching on the sideline at Bryant-Denny Stadium that day after spending his spring break in Tuscaloosa to get a jump on things. Coming off knee surgery for a torn meniscus in November, he too has been working with a quarterbacks coach, David Morris, and recently told Mike Herndon of AL.com that he’s "pumped" to get started with Lane Kiffin.
Alabama’s new offensive coordinator could work in Coker’s favor because he’s simplified the offense, making it easier for everyone to learn.
“Lane did a fantastic job with our staff and our players,” Saban said. “Both parties have a lot of respect for his knowledge and enthusiasm, experience. I think they respect him as a teacher.
“Any time you make a change you have to make little adjustments, and we tried to keep some of the things that we’re doing and allow Lane the freedom to do some of the things that he wants to do. I think everyone’s bought into that and it’s worked out really, really well.”
At 6’5” with a strong arm and good mobility Coker is physically impressive, but he still has to get the offense down, gain the confidence of his teammates and beat out Sims, who isn’t about to concede anything.
So it's Jacob Coker Day in Alabama. Let the real quarterback competition begin...
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.