TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nick Saban spoke at length about the Crimson Tide’s quarterbacks following the team’s second fall scrimmage on Saturday.
But his most telling statement was a one-word answer.
“Yes,” Saban said when asked if all three quarterbacks are still involved in the competition.
Through 19 practices and two scrimmages, no quarterback has separated from the group. Redshirt junior Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and freshman Jalen Hurts are all still fighting for the opportunity to replace Jake Coker. Sophomore David Cornwell is dealing with a foot injury that has limited his reps in practice.
Alabama did not release any statistics from Saturday’s scrimmage, but it’s safe to say that each quarterback made some throws they would like to have back.
Bateman, the only player with collegiate experience, has been solid throughout fall camp. But Bateman has yet to pull away from the two younger players.
Bateman is still the favorite to start against USC unless something changes in the next two weeks.
Barnett has struggled with turnovers. That’s something that hurt Barnett’s chances in last year’s competition. Barnett has all the tools to be a successful starting quarterback, but the turnovers have kept him from taking the job.
Hurts is making a serious push to be the starter. But the problem for Hurts has been that he makes a spectacular play then sometimes follows it up with a freshman mistake.
Consistency and taking care of the ball are two things Saban demands of his quarterbacks. Saban said there has been “encouraging things” when it comes to the quarterbacks. But the consistency has not been there.
“One day or two days in a row, it will look like one guy is starting to sort of forge ahead a little bit,” Saban said. “Then two days later somebody else seems to have a good day or two and it makes you think maybe this is the guy who’s the guy starting to take the bull by the horns and is going to be the guy. So I think it’s consistency.”
The lack of consistency leaves Alabama with more questions than answers at quarterback. Alabama hasn’t needed its quarterbacks to win many games during Saban’s time in Tuscaloosa.
They’ve just been asked not to give the ball to the other team or put the offense in a bad position. This year is no different.
“I think what the quarterback has to understand, and you’ve heard me say this before, is you can’t make the plays that lose the game,” Saban said. “We’ve played here with quarterbacks on good teams that didn’t necessarily do anything to win the game, they just didn’t do anything to lose it. And I think it starts with that.
“Those are the kind of plays that you have to eliminate.”
Those are the type of things that can hinder young quarterbacks. Quarterbacks who play at this level were typically asked to do everything for their high school. That can make it tough to focus on taking what’s there instead of trying to make a big play every down. Things like throwing the ball away to preserve time during a two-minute drill, or dumping the ball off to a running back when there’s nothing open downfield are the small details Saban wants the quarterbacks to focus on.
The talent level is there for all three of these players. Bateman was a highly rated 4-star prospect, and the No. 4 pro-style passer in the country during the 2013 recruiting cycle.
Barnett was a 5-star prospect and the No. 2 rated pro-style quarterback in the 2015 recruiting cycle. Only UCLA star Josh Rosen was ranked higher than Barnett.
Hurts was the No. 3 ranked dual-threat quarterback and a 4-star prospect in the 2016 recruiting cycle.
“The person that can play with the most consistency is the guy that’s going to have the best opportunity to lead us in the first game, and I can’t really say that one guys sticks out right now,” Saban said. “I think they have different skill sets, so doing what they can do will probably help each and every one of them. We’ll probably have to get into that some this week.”
Saban has played plenty of freshmen and young players throughout his time at Alabama. His philosophy has been that the best player will play despite their age.
That applies to quarterbacks if a young player happens to do what’s necessary to win the job.
“If a guy plays quarterback and he’s a young player, I think that it will require us having patience in his development and not asking him to do things that he’s not ready to do,” Saban said.