<
>

Another year, another slow-developing Alabama QB battle

HOOVER, Ala. -- It was never going to happen. Alabama coach Nick Saban wasn't going to strut to the podium at SEC media days last week and announce his next starting quarterback to the world. He wouldn't even hint at it. It just isn't his style. He'd sooner spike a football in commissioner Greg Sankey's face.

The competition is simply too close to call. If you watched A-Day, you know that. Jalen Hurts looked the best in the spring game, and he's a true freshman at the bottom of the depth chart. Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell, presumably the top two candidates, were consistently mediocre.

And, really, what's the use for Saban to pretend otherwise? There's no reason to move any option off the table right now.

Oh, you wanted an actual update on the progress of the quarterbacks in July? What were you thinking?

"For the third year in a row, I'm standing up here talking about somebody's going to be a new quarterback for us," Saban said. "Somebody's got to win that job. Somebody's got to win the team. You know, that has not necessarily happened yet and, you know, I'm not going to sit up here and sort of try to, you know -- I don't know the right word -- but give you some statistics on who's winning the race and how the race is going and who's ahead, are they on the back stretch or in the final turn. That's something that's going to happen probably in fall camp."

With that said, there are some things we know heading into camp, the most important of which is that there has been nothing to indicate that Bateman isn't still the front-runner. Perhaps that wouldn't be the case if Cornwell or redshirt freshman Blake Barnett had dazzled in spring practice, but neither did.

Bateman, a redshirt junior, is the only quarterback on the roster who has attempted a pass in a college game, and the staff is confident in his knowledge of the playbook. Remember, he started that Ole Miss game last year for a reason. Jake Coker wasn't handed the job; he had to beat out Bateman, who was second on the depth chart.

When asked about Bateman, Saban pointed to many of the intangibles that come with his experience in the program.

"He's a hard worker," Saban said. "He has the best understanding of the offense. He has the most experience. And I think that shows, at times. He's improved his ability and consistency as a passer, which has been the most important thing we tried to work with him to help him develop. He's a very athletic guy and he's very bright.

"So all these things are going to contribute to how he can do and how well he can win our team over. But we've been pleased with what he's been able to do so far."

"So far" is the key phrase there.

Safety Eddie Jackson, a veteran of three different starting quarterbacks at Alabama, said he has seen the group of four passers handle the competition well.

"They still coach each other up," he said. "When someone makes a mistake, either Blake or Cooper will go to them and say, 'This is what you did wrong,' or, 'This is what you could do better.' It's not like they're leaving someone out to dry."

When asked whether Bateman was the most vocal leader of the group, Jackson said, "Most definitely."

That doesn't entitle Bateman to the job, of course. But each of Alabama's past two starters has been the quarterback with the most experience. Coker (2015) and Blake Sims (2014) were fifth-year seniors.

Cornwell is in his third year in the program, but he never has taken a snap in a game. Barnett, a former five-star prospect, has to make up lost ground after an unimpressive second spring at Alabama. And while Hurts definitely showed a penchant for making plays this spring, the fact remains that as a head coach, Saban has never handed over the reins to a true freshman.

Bateman might be the odds-on favorite, but it's a wide-open race.

So what is Saban looking for exactly?

Among the items on his checklist are an ability to execute the offense, to win over teammates, play with consistency, exercise good judgment, make good decisions and lead, he said.

"What's most important for the position hasn't changed. ... I do think that it's not something you can force, in terms of making a guy be that without earning that from his teammates."

Earning it from teammates -- and from Saban -- takes time. Whether it was Sims, Coker or AJ McCarron, Alabama waited until a few games into the season to decide they were ready to be named the starter.

So forget a quarterback update any time soon. There's a chance we won't know who starts until Sept. 3, when Alabama opens against USC.