How the QB Battle Will Play Out

After a week or so of practice, the inquiring minds of Bama fans want to know and NEED to know how the QB situation is going to shake out before the season opener against West Virginia. Well, worry not my friends as I have read the tea leaves, peered into the old crystal (foot) ball and have even consulted with the ghost of Jimmy the Greek (Ouija boards are so wild) to figure out who the starting QB will be.  Here’s the way I think things stand with two scrimmages left before the season begins….
Everyone’s favorite Bama QB, Blake Sims, comes into the season as a fifth year senior QB who has earned Nick Saban’s trust over the last couple of years as the primary backup to AJ McCarron.  This dude has bided his time and toiled away as a backup, trying to make the most of every practice and game reps that he received.  And while most Bama fans (myself included) picture Sims as a running back playing QB, it’s important to note that when Blake Sims looks in the mirror, he simply sees a QB.  During the summer, while the entire state was abuzz with the Jacob Coker tracker, Sims was in Florida working with QB guru Ken Mastrole to improve his balance, vision and release. This, along with the five years of time he’s spent on campus, has earned the trust and respect of his teammates.
Why do I tell you all of this?  Well, for those of you who, like me, dismissed Sims’ chances of being the starter at some point during his woeful A-Day performance, you need to realize that Sims is still very much a viable candidate to win the job.  In fact, Nick Saban has taken every opportunity after practice to reaffirm that Sims is in the lead of this competition.  But, we’ve all seen him play so how is this possible?????
In studying every throw that Coker made last season, you can quickly and easily see that he’s the most physically gifted QB on the Alabama roster (and it isn’t close). Big body. Big arm. Runs extremely well. Coker most certainly looks the part of a big time QB.

However, when you watch the video of every throw he made last year, you’ll see some big times throws but you’ll also see that Coker often holds the ball waaaay too long.  He seems to get lost in his progressions and, after his first or second read he often tucks and runs.  Worst of all, throwing the ball away simply doesn’t seem to be in Coker’s DNA. He’d rather absorb a sack or throw the ball into danger as opposed to simply flinging it out-of-bounds. These are all things that can certainly be improved upon with the right QB coach (a story for another day) but I’m not certain they can be improved by August 30th.
Meanwhile, Sims’ knowledge of the offense (sorry folks but Lane Kiffin is still running the same playbook that’s been in existence since Saban arrived – he’ll tweak a few things but he isn’t overhauling anything) allows him to make quicker and more decisive reads. While he won’t wow you with a big arm, he can zip it to stationary targets (curls, comebacks, quick hitches) with surprising velocity. Downfield throws towards moving targets (flys, posts, corner routes, deep ins, etc) have always been his Achilles heel and with Alabama’s ridiculous cupboard full of talented WRs that’s why the hope has been that Coker wins the job.  Coker’s arm certainly plays much better to the fleet-footed corps of Bama receivers.
I believe when you sit down to watch Alabama take on West Virginia, you’ll see the QB battle play out in the exact same fashion that AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims battled it out a few years ago. Both Coker and Sims will be given equal opportunities and reps during wins over WVU, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss.  At some point during those three games a leader will emerge and he will be your 2014 starting QB.  Coker’s skill set would seem to make the best use of the wide receivers but until he learns to make quicker reads and throw the ball away when necessary then the staff will continue to trust Sims as the starter…
*Note:  Jimmy the Greek just IM’d me (who knew he was so technologically savvy?) and told me that the upcoming scrimmages could push this in one direction or the other but he also told me not to expect it to.  Even if Coker outperforms Sims over the next three weeks, Sims’ teammates want to see him be given a chance to lead the team.  And even if Sims outperforms Coker, the staff knows Coker gives them a more versatile offense so he will continue to get opportunities.

About these ads

Around the Watercooler – Podcast Number Three

Ok, so here’s something I’ve contemplated sharing for a while – I’m currently trying my hand at podcasting.  I’m privileged to be working with Doug Segrest, formerly of the Birmingham News and “The Zone”, on a new podcasting venture called “Around the Watercooler” and it’s available thru Itunes.

Before you listen, please know that this is something entirely new for me so expect some rumblin’, bumblin’ and stumblin’ from the likes of me!  But, it’s fun and hopefully you’ll listen in for the value of the content instead of focusing on any of my delivery issues.  You guys can just think of me as the Phillip Rivers of podcasting – it sure is awkward but it usually goes where it’s supposed to go!  But, for any failings on my part you should know that Doug is a pro’s pro.  He’s outstanding!  Doug brings over 30 years of sportswriting experience and still has numerous Capstone connections and insights from his time as an Alabama beat reporter.  Folks, he alone is well worth a listen.

I’m told you can download the app for the podcasts inside the App Store – just search “Bama Sports Radio.”  There are several other very good Alabama podcasts there to choose from so feel free to give them all a try.  Also, I’ll continue to post the links for “Around the Watercooler” here for those who don’t have Itunes. 

So, for those of you who are interested, here’s podcast #3:

This week’s topics are the future of Alabama basketball and we discuss the staff changes on offense and defense as we prepare for Alabama’s spring practices.  There’s some good discussion about whether or not we can expect any changes in philosophy in the playbook and in the dressing room.  Good stuff there…


Pre Spring Practice Update

Before Bama’s spring practices kick off on March 15, I thought I would tend to a couple of housekeeping items regarding the stellar recruiting class of 2014.  In this cycle, Alabama’s class was voted the unanimous #1 class by every service that covers recruiting.  That’s impressive!  In fact, many recruiting services are saying that since they’ve started tracking and grading recruiting classes, this Bama class is the highest ranked recruiting class in history!

What makes this all the more astounding to me is the fact that Alabama’s current depth chart is loaded with 4 star and 5 star players at nearly every position.  But, instead of going elsewhere, these kids jumped at the chance to get on campus and compete for jobs at Alabama (knowing full well they may have to sit for a year or two before getting their chance).  I just find that to be remarkable.

Believe it or not, our little website has spies everywhere and we had a few spies who were able to hear what the Alabama coaching staff thought of this class after signing day.  Without further ado, we’ll now lift the curtain so the Lighthouse can shine brightly behind the scenes of signing day…

  • In response to the leaked video of Coach Saban doing the electric slide, Saban remarked, “I’m just disappointed they didn’t catch me doing the Wobble.  Now, I can Wobble…”
  • After successfully recruiting his friend Rashaan Evans to Alabama, Reuben Foster told Saban that he was a better recruiter than Saban.  Pretty funny…
  • Like the Seattle Seahawks’ model in the NFL, Alabama has been looking for long athletes (preferably who run track) at corner.  Proof positive – Anthony Averett (6’0), Jonathan Cook (6’0), Eddie Jackson (6’0), Maurice Smith (6’0), Tony Brown (6’0) and Marlon Humphrey (6’0) have been signed as corners in the last two recruiting cycles.  NFL scouts will be drooling over these guys in the next two years.
  • Cameron Sims (6’4 WR) has a 7’0 wingspan.  Red zone target, anyone?
  • Center/guard J.C. Hassenauer (6’3, 295) came to Alabama’s camp at least three different times.  The first time, he was told he good but he was just too small.  The second time he was told he was really good but he was still too small.  The third time at camp, the staff purposefully lined up every stud they could find on the defensive line to challenge Hassenauer and he wasn’t beaten a single time.  He finally earned his offer.  He then went on to the prestigious “The Opening” event and dominated there, as well, moving from a 3 star to a 4 star in the process.
  • The staff thinks Ross Pierschbacher (6’4, 295) could conceivably play all five OL positions.
  • Bobby Williams thinks that Ty Flournoy-Smith (6’3, 245) is ready to play right now at tight end.
  • When Lane Kiffin took the microphone, he received a standing ovation.  He was funny, charming and pretty much killed it in front of a big crowd.  He said he thought he knew how to recruit until he came to Alabama.  When Rashaan Evans committed to Alabama, Kiffin ran down the hall to Kirby Smart’s office yelling, “We got him!  We got him!”  Smart just turned and looked at him and said, “Well, hell, Lane – I’ve known that for two weeks….”
  • David Cornwell (6’5, 235) is on campus as an early enrollee at the QB position.  He’s big, physical and he’s a leader.  (Editor’s note:  He played less than half of his senior season due to a knee injury and is unlikely to do anything but redshirt this season in our opinion)
  • Kiffin stated that the lost recruiting story is Jacob Coker, as he may be the biggest signee.  He nearly beat out Jameis Winston at FSU and has the ability to be the starter next year.
  • Lance Thompson was excited about his linebackers.  He said they are all fast and they can all rush the quarterback!  He also said they can play the zone read which, obviously, was a shot at Auburn.  Thompson said he thought he’d seen it all in recruiting until he saw Burton Burns and Kirby Smart doing the Saturday Night Fever thing at Rashan Evans’ grandfather’s birthday party.  They evidently had a dance off against the Auburn coaches and Burns and Smart were the stars.  Thompson closed by saying, “We’re gonna get this shit right!”
  • Scott Cochran took the mike and evidently received his customary welcome from the crowd.  Cochran said,  “I’ve got all these pretty mid-years (the early enrollees) they’ve been talking about” and that he can’t wait to get his hands on the rest of the class.

After the coaches had their turn at the mic, Saban returned and covered a ton of ground while he spoke.  A few of the items he apparently touched on:

  • As a staff, Saban said they are all starting over.  He said they are treating last year like it was the 7-6 season.  Somewhere along the way, Alabama lost their identity and the staff is determined to get that back.  He wants a tough and disciplined team and evidently felt Alabama had gotten away from that.
  • There are numerous books on how to be successful but scant few on how to stay successful.
  • The staff’s biggest task is to reconnect and build relationships with the players.  Saban has said this numerous times after the Auburn and OU losses.
  • Why is Alabama able to recruit so well?  Here’s what they are selling:
    • Alabama broke their own bowl record by having 28 guys on the Sugar Bowl team with degrees.  That’s amazing.
    • Alabama has the highest APR of the bowl teams next to Duke.
    • Alabama has had more All Americans than anyone else since Saban got there.
    • In the last five years, Alabama has won more games than any team in history over a five-year span.
    • Alabama has the highest percentage of NFL players drafted than any other college.
    • Alabama does not negative recruit.
    • Blake Sims isn’t necessarily a typical pro style QB and while he needs to improve he does several good things.
    • Cooper Bateman improved as a QB by running the scout team last season.
    • Saban hates the trend of having players turn pro so early.  The agents sell the players on leaving early so they can get a head start on getting that second contract but then so few of them are even able to secure their first contract.  I don’t believe Saban was pleased with Sunseri and Pagan turning pro – that’s the feeling you certainly get from the various messages Saban has put out there on this topic.

Apparently the last question of the night was in regards to the running back situation and, in particular, Kenyan Drake.  Saban talked about the other backs and then finished with some strong words regarding Drake.  He said that the audience has the opinion that Alabama lost the Auburn game because Kenyan Drake didn’t play.  Saban said the audience has that opinion because Drake actually tweeted that out (that Bama lost b/c he didn’t play).  The fact that Drake would tweet that should tell you everything you need to know about the young man.  Saban stated that Kenyan Drake didn’t do the things he was supposed to do (like go to class), so he was punished.  Now, if Drake doesn’t go to class and he doesn’t get to play, is that Drake’s fault or is it Saban’s fault?  This was a pretty easy answer for the crowd to figure out…

There were strong messages all night long about the work that is needed by the staff to start over and rebuild their identity while, at the same time, building relationships with the players.  Good stuff – glad to hear that complacency isn’t an issue in Tuscaloosa.  Certainly not anymore.

Solving the HUNH Debate

It’s been a while since I last posted anything but, as the song says, “looking at my Gucci, it’s about that time.”  So, if you’ll pardon the pun, let’s get rollin’!

Since Alabama’s spring practices are set to begin on March 15, I think it’s high time that I started contributing some material as we whet our appetites for what should be very interesting spring practices.  But, before we really start focusing on the upcoming positional battles and the new coaches who will be putting the players through the paces, I wanted to touch on the hot button topic that has consumed the college football world – the so-called “Nick Saban Rule” that attempts to slow the pace of the game down 10 seconds before every snap.

By this time you should all know the details regarding the rule so I won’t go into great detail outlining the proposal.  Just know that it won’t happen in the upcoming 2014 season and, honestly, it’s unlikely to get passed any time in the near future.

Why?  Well, mainly because it’s a bad rule.  I think the coaches are correct in trying to find a way to allow substitutions on the field but, in my opinion, this is not the right approach.  I also believe that the needs of the officials to get into the proper position do need to be taken into consideration but, as I have confirmed by talking with actual FBS official, their needs will be more taken care of by adding an eighth member of their crew than anything this ruling would do.

Ok, so why is it a bad rule?  Aside from assessing a delay of game penalty for going too fast??  Well, I’m so glad you asked.  Here’s a scenario you should consider:

  • Alabama is down 14 points with five minutes to go in the 4th quarter
  • Bama hurries to the line of scrimmage in an effort to get as many snaps as possible before the clock expires.  As you know, being down two scores forces a hurry up approach.
  • Jacob Coker rushes up to the line of scrimmage and Alabama is set to call the play but…they…have….to…..waaaait.  And wait.  And wait.
  • Ugh.  Bama fans would lose their minds as precious seconds ticked off the clock.  I know I would lose my mind.

All of the haughty talk about “player safety” is bogus to me.  As many have pointed out, if you are truly concerned about player safety, then adding three additional games (a conference championship game, a semi-final game and then a championship game) for the sake of gaining a ton of extra revenue probably isn’t the safest thing for these players to endure, either.  Frankly, I don’t think this issue is truly about safety.

What I do think the discussion is truly about is the ability to substitute a player when he is completely gassed.  Reasonable people realize that a coach should be able to get his kids out of the game when they are completely spent, and they should be allowed to do so without resorting to having their players fall prey to invisible snipers.  You’ve seen it.  It’s a joke – a perfectly healthy football player belatedly falls to the ground, faking an injury.  Like we don’t all know what’s going on.  In all honesty, I think the coaches want to remove these infamous flops as much as they want to slow down the pace of the game.

Listen, 300 pounders are going to need a break and they should be allowed to come off the field if they are unable to put forth an effort to defend themselves.  In my opinion, after every first down, the clock is stopped to move the chains and it’s at that time that you should be able to substitute liberally.  No additional rules are needed.  The ref would simply stand over the ball (as they do now whenever the offense substitutes) and allow the defense to send in their reserves.

New rules aren’t needed and aren’t necessary.  What is necessary is a break in the action to allow these kids to be substituted out of the game.  Doing so after every first down would alleviate the safety concerns and it would protect the pace of the game throughout the game.

Folks, it’s just so simple.  Even the cavemen at the NCAA could do it…

The Lane Kiffin Error Begins

The Lane Kiffin error, I mean era, has begun and I, for one, am vehemently opposed to his hiring.  Paul Finebaum once described Lane Kiffin as the “Miley Cyrus of college football.” Now Kiffin comes into Tuscaloosa like a wrecking ball.  Of course this particular wrecking ball left the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Volunteers and USC Trojans in shambles, yet Nick Saban has chosen to anoint him as Alabama’s new offensive coordinator.

It’s mystifying to me how a person could achieve so much by achieving so little throughout their career.  Saban could have had his choice of any accomplished quarterback coach and coordinator to choose from.  But, instead of conducting a countrywide search, Saban picked Lane Kiffin – a man who has never achieved any amount of success on his own at any level.

Before you disregard this article as the rantings of someone with an axe to grind against the Crimson Tide or Nick Saban, you should know that I’m a very proud graduate of the University of Alabama.  I take great pride in watching my alma mater do great things on and off the football field, so watching the Alabama football team conduct themselves in a first class manner on the football field and in the classroom means a great deal to me.  I want my University to be represented in a class manner at all times, so perhaps that is why I am so vehemently opposed to the hiring of Kiffin.

As a football fan and someone who considers himself a student of the game, when I look at the bios of a new Alabama football coach I look for statistical success, a reputation for holding players accountable and a person who young men can look up to.  Kiffin does not measure up in any of these areas so it is befuddling to me that he was even considered for the job, let alone hired.  Disagree with me?  Let’s take a look at the Kiffin files…

Woeful Statistics

In 2005, Kiffin was the co-offensive coordinator (with Steve Sarkisian) at USC where they set multiple records on offense with the likes of Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, Lendale White and Dewayne Jarrett.  However, exactly how much credit Kiffin should get for this is highly debatable.  After 2005, Steve Sarkisian’s stock continued to skyrocket while Kiffin’s hasn’t done anything noteworthy since.  It certainly appears that Sarkisian had far more to do with USC’s success in 2005 than Kiffin did.

In 2007 and 2008, Kiffin went 5-15 as the Raiders’ head coach and play caller.  The Raiders ranked 23rd in offense in 2007 and, in 2008, the offense slipped to 29th.  After a 1-3 start in 2008, Al Davis fired him, telling him “I will no longer stand silently by while you continue to hurt this organization.”  Davis later said, “I think he conned me like he conned all you people … I reached a point where I felt that the whole staff were fractionalized, that the best thing to do to get this thing back was to make a change. It hurts because I picked the guy. I picked the wrong guy.”  Now Saban has made the same mistake and has been conned by Kiffin.

In 2009, the Tennessee Vols hired Kiffin where he once again was the head coach and play caller.  While the Vols offense improved during his lone season in Knoxville, they still ranked just 60th in total offense.

In 2010, Kiffin took over the USC team as their coach and play caller once again.  Instead of showing steady improvement during his time there, the USC offense progressively went downhill.  Kiffin inherited Matt Barkley, who was once thought to be a first rounder.  As a result of being “coached up” by Kiffin, Barkley ended up not even getting drafted until the fourth round.  In this past year, the Trojan offense rankied a woeful 70th in total yards and 60th in total points, even with 4 or 5 stars at nearly every position on offense.  Here is a look at Kiffin’s “success” coaching offenses on the collegiate level:

Tennessee/USC Offensive Stats

Year Total Passing Rushing Pts
2009 UT 60 48 54 43
2010 28 45 25 39
2011 21 20 51 16
2012 41 32 72 40
2013 72 70 59 60

Many will say that Kiffin was hamstrung by the crippling sanctions that USC suffered from (sanctions for recruiting improprieties that happened during Kiffin’s time tenure I might add) and they say comparing and dissecting USC’s offensive stats simply isn’t fair.  Well, the next graph IS a fair comparison.  This chart is the very best judge of how effective Kiffin truly is as a playcaller.  Isn’t it an incredible coincidence that once this “outstanding and creative offensive coach” was fired, the USC offense suddenly got much, much better?  Here are the stats with Kiffin and without Kiffin – this is the fairest judgment of his abilities as an “offensive mastermind.”

2013 Total Passing Rushing Pts
With Kiffin 380.4 189.8 190.6 25.4
Without Kiffin 413.7 230 184 31.8

These stats illustrate that, simply put, Kiffin isn’t an effective offensive coordinator.  Once Kiffin was fired, quarterback Cody Kessler improved significantly, showing that Kiffin clearly isn’t a good developer of quarterbacks, either – a task that is of paramount importance for Alabama in 2014.  Want further proof that Kiffin can’t develop quarterbacks?  After Matt Barkley suffered a collarbone injury at the end of 2012, Kiffin had well over a month to prepare 4-star QB Max Wittek to play Georgia Tech (ranked 95th against the pass) in the Sun Bowl.  Wittek went 14/37 for 107 yards and three interceptions while throwing the ball to the likes of Marquise Lee and Robert Woods.

Not a Good Person

It’s amazing to me how quickly Alabama fans seem to have forgotten the numerous off the field issues that Lane Kiffin has had over the years.  Here’s a quick recap for you folks who need a quick refresher:

  • In 2007, Kiffin publicly feuded with Al Davis, stemming from openly criticizing his players to the media – a low-class move by any standard.
  • At a press conference in 2008, Kiffin accused Urban Meyer of cheating.  Kiffin later embarrassingly had to issue a public apology because he was dead wrong with his accusations.
  • In August of 2009, Kiffin mysteriously wrecked his leased Lexus and walked home from the one car accident.  Rumors abounded about what truly happened that night but the Tennessee administration quietly swept the incident under the rug.  Suffice it to say that it was fairly scandalous for the university when the incident came to light.
  • Kiffin allegedly instructed Tennessee hostesses to travel to the high schools where top recruits were playing.  This was a massive controversy that resulted in NCAA investigations and sanctions.
  • After announcing that he was leaving for USC, in a low-class move Kiffin began calling Tennessee’s early enrollees to convince them not to enroll at the school.  This was unheard of in the coaching profession and was frowned upon nationally.
  • At USC, Kiffin was reprimanded for having his managers deflate the footballs during a game against Oregon.  This was a blatant attempt at cheating and it got the manager fired.
  • Kiffin pulled a jersey switcheroo on Oct. 20 in order to help the Trojans beat big, bad Colorado (1-8). USC had backup quarterback Cody Kessler change from No. 6 to No. 35 against the Buffaloes, a number worn by punter Kyle Negrete. Kessler then attempted to run for a two-point conversion.  In the second half, Kessler was back to wearing No. 6, seemingly in violation of NCAA rules about changing jerseys in an attempt to deceive the opponent. That brainstorm was almost certainly the difference in USC squeaking out a 50-6 victory over Colorado.
  • Kiffin shut off access to the L.A. Coliseum for Friday walk-throughs by visiting teams.  This was another low class move as walk-thrus are a standard practice for the visiting teams across the country.
  • Kiffin confronted L.A. Daily News reporter Scott Wolf, stripping his credential and banning him from practice for daring to report on an injury to USC kicker Andre Heidari. That led to a battle between the coach and the L.A. media, which ended with athletic director Pat Haden involved, Wolf’s credential being restored and Kiffin apologizing. Yet another embarrassing incident for USC to deal with.

Cheater, Cheater, Pumpkin Eater

Kiffin has a reputation as a top recruiter and that appears to be his only possible value.  Of course with Alabama pulling in the number one class in each of the last four years, it would seem questionable as to whether this is really a need for the Crimson Tide program.

In his one year recruiting at Tennessee, Kiffin was applauded for his 2009 class that ranked 10th in the nation that year.  However, after numerous dismissals and departures from members of that class (ranging from armed robbery to academic failings), Rivals now ranks that class as the worst one in recruiting history.  Only one member of that much ballyhooed group of signees had more than 10 starts during their time at Tennessee.

In the past, Kiffin has used negative recruiting tactics, tactics that heretofore were not something the Alabama staff would stoop to.  Kiffin publicly told Alshon Jeffery that he would end up pumping gas somewhere if he signed with Spurrier and the Gamecocks.  That pissed him off and now Jeffrey is, of course, a star receiver in the NFL.

Recruiting sanctions have followed Kiffin at both USC and Tennessee, leaving both institutions with reduced scholarships and probationary periods for their coaching staffs.  And, for all of the good recruits Kiffin may have signed, you should also know that he shooed away Vol commitments Tahj Boyd and Bryce Petty while he was at Tennessee and he told DeAnthony Thomas he had no use for him at USC.

Of course the worst of his offenses is the usage of hostesses to lure recruits to Tennessee.  He really put the “ho” in hostess as several of them were alleged to be having “relations” with prospective student athletes.  Is this the type of man we want at the University of Alabama?  Do we not have higher standards than this?  I’m embarrassed to have this man put on crimson and white shirts with our script A.

Not a Good Fit

Lane Kiffin has consistently carried himself as a smug, smarmy individual who thinks it is his birthright to have success coaching football.  But while his father, Monte, forged a path to becoming one of the most respective defensive coordinators in all of football, all Lane has to show for his efforts is a family connection to someone (Monte) who knows football.  Nothing Lane Kiffin has ever done has remotely suggested that he is a top-notch football coach.  However, everything he has ever done has suggested that he is a low life human being.

Nick Saban could have hired anyone he wanted to be his offensive coordinator.  Highly successful football coaches consistently line up to put the name “Nick Saban” on their resumes.  However, instead of conducting a nationwide search for the best coordinator Alabama could find, Saban stopped the search after interviewing one person.

Now Alabama is stuck with a coach who has, at best, an average to below average ability to coordinate an offense.  Now Alabama is stuck with the kind of coach that a smart father or mother would never want to entrust their son to.

The Alabama football team deserves better.  My beloved University deserves better.  With this hire, Mal Moore must be turning over his his grave.  He never would have signed off on this.  Mal was a man of class. A man of dignity.  A man of honor.  He represented everything that was good about our university and our coaching staff and he demanded excellence.  Now, after hiring the likes of Lane Kiffin, we have to wonder where our program is headed.