TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s quarterback competition was going to be as much of a competition as an Alabama-Chattanooga game, right?
Highly touted Florida State transfer Jacob Coker was going to come in and immediately be anointed starter, win a Heisman or two and ride off into the sunset after two years with a lot of hardware under his belt.
All of that could still come to fruition, but Coker hasn’t even been named the starter yet and doesn’t appear to be close to doing so, either. There is a very real chance that Blake Sims is Alabama’s starting quarterback for the 2014 season, and he won’t be relegated to backup duty for the third straight year without a fight.
“I would like to see somebody take the bull by the horns from a leadership standpoint, a consistency standpoint and win the job here sometime,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said on Tuesday. “But we're not going to make a decision until somebody does that.”
The biggest thing Sims has on his side in all of this is leadership.
He’s been around for four years now, going on five, so he is as familiar as anyone in that locker room with the other players. His teammates and coaches have spoken in the preseason about how he’s embraced that role.
“He’s definitely improved a lot,” wide receiver Chris Black said. “He’s more focused, being way more vocal, really stepping up as a leader, kind of trying to take control of the offense.”
That could go a long way for Sims in this competition. Having teammates who believe in you is half the battle for a quarterback, maybe more.
“Immensely. He's taken on a leadership role, at least a vocal role, on the offense,” center Ryan Kelly said. “Between him and Jacob, they're huge competitors. That's all you want out of a quarterback. When you get up to the line of scrimmage and you know you got those two guys behind you, you know they're going to give you everything they got. As an offensive line, it's awesome that we can work for someone like that. Whoever wins the job, I know they're going to do a great job competing for us.”
Off the field, Sims has been doing just about everything he can to improve as a passer.
He spent spring break and some of the summer in Florida with Ken Mastrole of the Mastrole Passing Academy. Mastrole has worked with the likes of E.J. Manuel, Tajh Boyd and Teddy Bridgewater and liked what he saw from Sims.
“He’s got the tools, definitely, to be the guy for Alabama,” Mastrole said in the spring. “Like I’ve been saying all along, just a good kid, he’s got very good leadership qualities, I think he really cares about this offseason and this year, about being the guy. He’s been patient. He does all the things that you want. He’s gonna walk the straight line, he’s going to represent the program well.”
The big question for Sims is his accuracy and learning how to manage using his feet to make plays.
Saban has, in the past, criticized him for going “rat-trap”—giving up on a play too early and trying to make something happen on the ground too quickly. He said on Tuesday that that’s changing.
“Blake's really improved first of all his knowledge of the offense,” Saban said. “He's capable of doing a lot more things. Really improved as a passer and because he's improved as a passer, I think he's more confident.
“So he doesn't go what I call rat-trap and start running around. He really has enough confidence to throw the ball on time and throw it to the right place and feel like he can make a completion and not have to do everything himself. I think those are probably the two areas that I think he's improved in the most.”
Alabama’s quarterback battle will likely go down to the wire between Sims and Coker, possibly all the way until the fourth game of the season, when Alabama plays Florida.
Coker came in as the favorite, but Sims is staking his claim for the starting job and has a very real chance of being Alabama’s quarterback in 2014.
“He's doing everything he's got to do to try to win the job,” Kelly said. “Him, Jacob and all the quarterbacks. When you step in to play quarterback for this offense, you know you're going to need to know the entire playbook in and out. Every quarterback has tried to do that, and they're still working on it everyday. Nobody is perfect on offense. Everybody is going to have a bad day. It's how you overcome it. They're both huge competitors.”
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