With the departure of Phillip Sims (as foretold by this soothsayer once AJ McCarron took the reins last season), the depth of the quarterback position took a significant hit in the offseason. Last season, AJ clearly separated himself from Sims and won the job fair and square, despite what some callers on the Finebaum show would have you believe. In fact, with AJ’s incredible MVP performance in the championship game last year, you could say that the starting QB position at Alabama hasn’t looked this good since, who, Namath? McCarron is mc-clearly superior to McElroy and there’s little question he’s performed better than John Parker Wilson, Brodie Croyle and many, many others. And, Saban absolutely loves this kid. Can there be a stronger endorsement than that? I think not!
So, the starting QB position is beyond solid. In fact, it’s a strength! However, once you get past AJ on ye old depth chart, you have some question marks (if not a Nightmare on Elm, er, Bryant Drive). In fact, at a Crimson Caravan event in Birmingham, Coach Saban openly admitted that if Bama were to lose AJ then they’d be in some serious trouble. At 6’4, 205, AJ isn’t exactly built like a Sherman tank so QB depth is a legit concern – and even more so with the departure of Phillip Sims. So, going forward, we will now consider the search for the backup quarterback as the Alan Parsons Project – “Where do we go from here?” Ahh, the games people play…
Regarding the backup QB, according to Saban during the Caravan Blake Sims, if healthy, could get the first call to be the backup to AJ. Saban then said that he hoped that, like AJ, Alec Morris could come in, learn quickly and be game ready by mid season. To me, this basically leaves Phillip Ely out of the mix. Ouch. My guess is that, until Morris is ready, Alabama would use some type of time share with Blake Sims and Phillip Ely each taking snaps.
AJ McCarron – 6’4, 205. Redshirt Junior.
McCarron arrived in the 2009 class as a 4 star QB. At the time, he was listed as 6’4, 189. He now stands at 6’4, 205 so he’s gained some weight to make himself a little more sturdy back there in the pocket. AJ has transformed himself from a “go deep” QB who just looked for the deepest route to show off his arm to an honest to goodness QB last season. AJ’s grasp of the offense and his coolness in the pocket allowed him to really step forward, win the competition ahead of Phillip Sims, and become a very good starting QB. I think the thing that impressed me the most last year was his decision making, as he rarely made a poor decision. In his high school All Star games and in his guest appearances in ’10 at QB, AJ had a propensity to show off his arm strength regardless of the coverage, so I feared the worst last year. But, instead of taking chances and turning the ball over last season, AJ completed 219 of 328 passes (66.7%) for 2,634 yards. Impressive for a first year starter. But, more than that, AJ threw 16 TDs and only 5 picks and rarely if ever made a poor decision. Nick got him to “calm the F down” and turned him into an efficient and, in the BCS game, deadly accurate and dependable QB. Perhaps that’s why Nick pats him on the butt so much (and so hard)!!!!
Blake Sims – 6’0, 212. Redshirt sophomore.
Blake Sims arrived as a 4 star athlete in the 2010 class, listed at 6’0, 180. He’s added 32 lbs during his time with Scott Cochran – damn! Sims’ ability to make plays with the ball in his hands necessitated that he play on offensive side of the ball and his desire to play QB allowed him to spend his first year taking reps with the QBs. After a year of reps at QB, last year was hailed as the coming out party for Blake Sims as he was to be Bama’s version of Percy Harvin. In fall camp, Sims reportedly was lining up in the slot as a WR, the backfield as a RB and even taking snaps at the vaunted wildcat position. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to stardom for Sims – he never got a chance to play. So, the wild conjecture about Sims being featured in the wildcat was quickly deposited in the litter box last season. This season, Sims suffered a hip injury playing basketball and missed most of spring practice but, even with that setback, Saban stated that Sims would get the first shot as a backup QB if AJ were to go down. Having seen Sims in practice, what you will see is a very Pat White-esque looking QB if he gets the chance to play. White is a much better downfield passer (which most certainly is not good news) but Sims’ ability to extend the play and hit curls, digs and outs around the 15 yard range was impressive and reminiscent of White. With Sims’ 4.5 speed, he clearly would be a running threat from the QB position. If he were to be the QB, the downfield passing game would be nullified and you’d see a very conservative approach that focused on allowing the defense and the running game to win games. Gene Stallings will be in heaven if this comes to fruition! BTW – the current knock on Sims is ball security, which I believe is the reason he hasn’t earned the trust of the staff just yet.
Phillip Ely – 6’1, 187. Redshirt freshman.
Ely arrived as a 3 star QB in the 2011 class at 6’1, 186 so, as you can see, he evidently hasn’t found the weight room facility. Ely led his high school team to the state championship game during his senior year of high school and showed toughness and accuracy during the game. While his arm strength won’t exactly conjure up images of Brodie Croyle, his accuracy should make you remember David Smith. By all accounts, Ely is a hard working kid who really understands the playbook (as an early enrollee last year he got an extra 15 spring practices under his belt) but his size and limited arm strength are limiting factors on his development. The statement by Saban saying Blake Sims would be #2 and then they’d hope that Morris could be ready by mid-season basically eliminates Ely from the competition. Of course, Greg McElroy said that Saban wanted to eliminate him from the QB mix when Saban first arrived but he continued to impress everyday and earn the trust of the coaching staff. Perhaps that will be the case with Ely but, at this point, that appears to be a very remote possibility. If Ely does take the helm, you will see a very conservative approach with short crossing patterns, screens and draws. Since Blake Sims adds the running element to the mix, I believe that is why (if healthy) Sims gets the nod as the #2 QB. Ely simply doesn’t give you a whole lot more than Sims in the passing department but Sims certainly provides a huge upgrade in the running department. Advantage Sims.
Alec Morris – 6’3, 235. True freshman.
Morris will come in as a three star true freshman QB this fall and all reports say that Coach Nussmeier is very pleased with the work Morris is putting in to elevate his game. Morris has been working on taking snaps from under center and is working with a private QB coach to practice and incorporate 5 and 7 step drops into his game. That’s dedication! Formerly coming from a pure shotgun offense, this is a credit to Morris that he is already working on things he’ll need once he hits campus. At 6’3, 235, this kid certainly looks like the protoypical NFL gunslinger and his film shows a very strong and accurate arm. His film also indicates that he’s a little more athletic than you might think so Morris has all of the tools to be successful at the college level. I believe Morris’ work ethic, his physical abilities and the fact that he’s a highly successful QB from Texas (Greg McElroy, anyone?) gives him a tremendous advantage to overtake both Ely and Sims as the #2 QB. The one and only question that I have about Morris is how quickly he can learn the playbook. If everyone’s going out for a pass and he’s looking to hand the ball off, then Houston, we have a problem. A Nick Saban QB MUST earn Nick’s trust by commanding the playbook well before he gets the chance to take any meaningful snaps and, at this point, Morris is behind the others. Time will tell but I really like this kid. Of course, for full disclosure, I liked Phillip Sims to win out over AJ last season so what do I know?
First, a note about the “Incoming” section. These kids have only given a verbal commitment to Alabama and, as we’ve seen in recruiting, things can change before signing day. But, with that being said, I think it’s important to know what the future holds, especially at this very thin (pardon the pun, AJ & Phillip) position. Nick recognizes we need more quality depth at the QB position, which means he isn’t all that enamored with Sims or Ely for the long term. Anyway, here’s a look at the QBs coming soon to a campus near you.
Cooper Bateman – 6’3, 190. 4 Star QB, Class of 2013
Bateman is a top QB prospect who hails from Salt Lake City, Utah. No, Nussmeier didn’t run into him while he was skiing – this kid is a top QB prospect who. After winning the top QB honors at the Dallas Elite 11 camp, competed in the highly acclaimed and televised Elite 11 camp. After missing on Jamies Winston and Gunner Kiel last year, Bateman is a tremendous get for the staff. This kid appears to have all of the tools to be the next great QB at Alabama. Oh, and by the way, Cooper has decided to swap out his tie, cummerbund, tuxedo and date for a helmet, shoulder pads and some cleats – Bateman plans enroll in January so that he can get a full spring under his belt before the rest of his high school class attends prom.
Parker McLeod – 6’2, 189. 3 Star QB, Class of 2013
First off, I’m impressed that McLeod isn’t scared of Bateman’s presence at the QB position. Bateman committed before McLeod but that didn’t faze him in the least. McLeod participated in Alabama’s June camp and went head to head against several other QBs who were also looking for a Bama offer. During the camp, McLeod impressed Saban and Nussmeier with his footwork, intelligence and accuracy but was knocked a bit for his athleticism. Nonetheless, Saban and Nuss were impressed enough to offer up a scholly and, much to the chagrin of his AU mom, McLeod jumped on the offer. He seems to profile a bit like Ely to me – about the same size and attributes – but we’ll see. Oh, and he, too, is planning on enrolling in January which is always a huge advantage for the incoming freshmen.
I would be remiss if I did not pause for a moment and congratulate the fine efforts of one Jim McElwain. I’ve been a big fan of his throughout his tenure and he boasts a track record of getting his last four QBs into NFL training camps. He’s a tremendous developer of QBs and he’s able to relate to them in such a way that they can grow into the best QB they can be. By all accounts, Coach Nuss is equally talented and he’s already renowned for his own work with QBs during his career. But, I think AJ would be the first to tell you that Coach Mac will be missed.
Now for the final thoughts on the QB position itself. If AJ stays healthy this season, this may be the best passing offense we’ve seen since the days of Croyle to Prothro. However, with AJ’s slight build and the departure of Phillip Sims, the depth at the position is a major concern. If AJ goes down then the Alan Parsons Project will start in haste and, until/if Morris can show himself to be a suitable backup, then you’d better get on bended knee if AJ is slow to get up from a hit. While Blake Sims can add some things to the offense with his legs, the vertical passing game vanish faster than Mike Price at an SEC coach’s convention and Ely may turn out to be more like Brandon Avalos than David Smith. QB depth is a big time concern in my opinion and it’s a fear that is equally shared by Nick Saban.