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Spring Football 2014: Replacing McCarron in Tuscaloosa

Blake Sims
It wasn't the storybook ending it should have been. A.J. McCarron's last two games with Alabama ended with a miracle return by Auburn and Chris Davis and a blowout loss to Oklahoma in a game in which they were favored in heavily. McCarron had led the Tide to two straight national championships the prior two years and hoped to end his career with them with a third national title. Although, 'Bama was at the top spot in the polls throughout much of the year the loss to Auburn cost them a shot and the loss to Oklahoma added insult to injury. McCarron would finish his career in Tuscaloosa with 9,019 passing yards, 77 touchdown passes and a career record of 36-4 but his graduation had to run out sometime. As McCarron prepares for a future in the NFL, Alabama prepares for next season and they will hope to continue their success with someone else at the helm.

Last year at this time Florida State was in a similar predicament. The Seminoles were losing E.J. Manuel to the NFL after some great year with the 'Noles and they were looking for a replacement. They ultimately decided on redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, and the rest is history. But, Winston's main competition during the quarterback competition in Tallahassee was Jacob Coker, a 6-5 QB with a very strong arm. Coker realized he had no future with FSU anymore and after the season announced he would be transferring. He ended up heading to Alabama and gave the Tide their favorite to replace McCarron at QB. Coker is a former 3-star recruit who was redshirted his first year with FSU but has the tools to grow into a great quarterback. Not only does he have the size and a strong arm, he has shown great command of the game and fantastic mobility in the short moments we've seen him. If McCarron showed one gaping weakness it was his mobility; he could move around pretty well but was never much of a threat with his legs. Under Nick Saban, Coker could definitely grow into quite the quarterback with 'Bama.

Although Coker may be the very early favorite for the job, don't count out anybody else in the race. At Oklahoma last year junior Blake Bell looked to be the starter for the Sooners after Landry Jones graduated but, after a long competition Bob Stoops named redshirt freshman Trevor Knight the starter. Senior Blake Sims has served as McCarron's understudy the last couple years and is knows the offense better than Coker. Coker, due to eligibility, might not see significant practice time until summer and will have to learn Alabama's playbook very quickly. In relief appearances last year, Sims threw for 18 completions on 29 attempts and recorded 167 yards, much of it coming in a blowout victory over FBS newcomer Georgia State on October 5th. Sims doesn't have the size that Coker has, he stands at 6 feet and just a shade over 200 pounds. Sims has proven he also has the ability to extend plays with his legs like Coker but he is not a typical Saban passer. He doesn't sense pressure very well and when he does he will usually panic; he needs to work on being a pocket passer. He still has a whole spring to show improvement but there are a number of players behind him on the depth chart that have looked a lot better in practice.

Behind Coker and Sims, there are the rest of the players in competition to replace McCarron. These include three redshirt freshmen, Parker McLeod, Cooper Bateman and Alec Morris and then one incoming freshman, David Cornwell. Cornwell probably has the brightest upside of any QB on the Alabama roster but he is coming off a knee injury that ended his senior season of high school and thinking he could come off that and start in the brutal SEC is a little hard to imagine. He is still a player with a bright future, he is one of the biggest quarterback recruits in 'Bama history. Morris is a pro style quarterback who has a great game IQ but still lacks the ability to make accurate throws, he is pretty wild. Bateman is also a pro style QB with a great mind for the game but he also has shown his fair share of weaknesses. Bateman sees the field pretty well and has solid athleticism and moves pretty well in the pocket but he also has been underwhelming throwing the ball at times. Both obviously lack game experience along with Cornwell but it isn't like Coker and Sims have seen too much of strong SEC defenses either.

It is still around five months until Alabama will play West Virginia at the Georgia Dome on August 30th. They certainly have enough time to make the decision on who will lead the Tide, and hopefully back to another national championship. Right now, Coker appears to be the very tentative favorite over Sims but the others should be in play as well. Either way, Saban will make a smart decision and Alabama should once more be in serious competition for a SEC West crown and possibly even bigger things this 2014 season.

Spring Game: April 19th @ Bryant-Denney Stadium

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