Alabama Football: Sims, Coker and the disturbing underlying tone of the QB battle
After two games, both wins I may add, there’s a clear divide among the Alabama Crimson Tide fan base as to who should man the ship for the Tide at quarterback.
Fifth-year senior Blake Sims has started each of the Tide’s first two tilts and has played relatively well — despite not having the confidence of what seems like the majority of the fan base and media types alike (David Pollack, anyone?).
Coming on the heels of the greatest QB in the history of the program, two-time national champion A.J. McCarron, you’d expect there to be some difficulty for whomever was charged with the arduous task of living up to the lofty expectations of the Bama faithful.
However, the underlying tone for Sims seems to go deeper than a football skill set.
As it is in everyday life, virtually anything that doesn’t look like the norm tends to have to go above and beyond the call of duty to distinguish itself from the pack.
For the 6’0″, 203-pound Sims it’s been an uphill battle trying to win over the hearts of the Bama faithful. He’s already working against the perception that he’s not good enough to lead the legendary program to the promised land — despite never previously having an authentic opportunity to shine or fail.
Imagine that, critics and pundits have deemed this kid not good enough for Bama prior to ever starting a contest. Some have even stated that if he was any good he would’ve already played.
Now that doesn’t make a bit of sense.
Nobody was about to start over McCarron in any shape, form or fashion after he procured the job as a sophomore and won a national championship.
But Sims’ stats thus far: 35-of-46 (76% completion) for 464 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, suggests he has some talent.
And when you factor in he’s brought in an additional element: nine rushes for 56 yards with one TD, you can plainly see the gravity of the situation.
That’s not to say Sims has been perfect, it’s just to say he deserves the same benefit of the doubt McCarron, Greg McElroy and John Parker-Wilson got before him.
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To say Jacob Coker arrived to the Capstone with a ton of hype is a bit of an understatement.
He had the benefit of being verbally co-signed by the most recent BCS-title winning coach, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, who stated that it was a neck-and-neck situation between Coker and the great Jameis Winston as to who would start for the Seminoles last season.
Needless to say that was all most needed to run with the notion that he was better than Sims. At 6’5″, 230 pounds, with a reported rocket arm, Coker was immediately billed as the player to lead the Tide to the College Football Playoff.
Some even went as far as saying he’d be the No. 1 breakout player in the entire country!
Nobody hurled absurd insults stating that he wasn’t good enough to unseat Winston nor previous starter E.J. Manuel.
Instead he came packaged with this:
“Including what they’ve had, he’s much more talented than anything they’ve had,” Fisher said about Coker opposed to Alabama’s previous QBs to TideSports.com (h/t to Fox Sports). “I don’t mean to discredit the previous guys, they were all great. But this guy is extremely talented. Arm and mind.”
Now imagine that, he was touted as being better than a group of QBs that had three national titles and a couple of Sugar Bowl appearances between them.
Additionally, he only completed 50 percent of his passes (18-of-36 for 250 yards) with no TDs and one INT last season. So it wasn’t as though he’d accomplish much to support that type of hype.
But make no mistake about it; Coker does have some serious talent. It just appears that Sims wasn’t afforded the same benefit of the doubt Coker received despite being a part of the Bama program for the previous four seasons.
And that’s a darn shame.
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Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has installed a modernized version of the West Coast offense meant to be based off rhythm and timing. The Tide will always be a run-first outfit under head coach Nick Saban, but Kiffin seems to have gotten the green light to implement his principles and scheme.
First and foremost QBs need to be accurate in the short-to-intermediate game in Kiffin’s offense. He wants to implement the short game, in addition to the run, to get defenses to cheat up so he can loosen up coverage for the vertical part of his scheme.
Critics and pundits have pointed to Kiffin’s insistence on having Sims work the short game as if he’s incapable of doing anything else. The fact remains that Sims has an ultra-quick three-quarters release that works well with the screen portion of Kiffin’s offense.
The West Coast philosophy has not changed: Get the ball into the hands of your playmakers as quick as possible and have them break tackles and manufacture explosive plays.
This is not unlike what we saw Steve Young and Jerry Rice do with the San Francisco 49ers way back in the 80’s (which makes me feel old to say). Tide receiver Amari Cooper is the best receiver in the nation and is built for this type of scheme.
Here’s Sims displaying his accuracy and quick release. In this particular sequence, he audibles to a “smoke” screen from a called run play. Anytime Kiffin sees the receivers playing far off the receivers, he will audible to this play and have Cooper, Deandrew White or Chris Black eat up yards in chunks.
Sims does a great job of throwing the pass where Cooper can catch it and already be in the process of running. This is a lot harder than most think as you have to throw from a pivot and step.
Here we see Sims working the intermediate area. One things critics don’t point out about Sims is the fact that he has very solid mechanics. He sells his play-action fakes well and usually marries his feet with his arm — meaning he shoots with his lead foot and shifts off his drive leg.
It’s usually on roll-out passes where he can get a bit out of whack with his feet and it ends up showing when he misfires.
On this particular pass he had to fit it in a tiny window, but he needed to use touch in the process; he made it look easy.
While many question if Sims has adequate arm strength — which he does — it’s hard to question his accuracy from within the pocket. He doesn’t remotely have the type of velocity Coker has, but he has enough to make the variety of throws that are in Kiffin’s playbook.
But there’s no substitute for accuracy in a West Coast offense, and there’s no room for poor decision making in any playbook.
Sims has what it takes to lead the Tide as he’s shown thus far.
One thing most of us heard about Coker was his inconsistencies with his accuracy in the short game. We also heard how he may have had trouble adjusting to the terminology in such an abbreviated time on campus — as he wasn’t allowed to transfer until the summer.
Both of these aspects are understandable as he had to not only adjust to a new playbook, but he also had to adjust to new teammates.
Both problems were prevalent, at times, in Coker’s season debut against the Florida Atlantic Owls. We saw communication problems between Coker and Kiffin which bogged down the offense on numerous occasions. We also timing issues with Coker and a couple of his targets.
But we mostly saw just how great Coker could spin the ball.
There was a clear dichotomy with how Kiffin called the game for both QBs. While Sims looked to be executing a pure West Coast offense, Coker seemed as though he was operating an “Air Coryell” vertical offense.
While some may point to Sims’ lack of downfield action, I believe it’s more of Kiffin being one of the best offensive minds in the game and putting his players in the best situations to succeed opposed to him not having confidence in Sims’ ability to stretch the field.
Coker makes a great throw here; Cooper makes an amazing catch.
I’d like to see Coker manipulate the coverage with his eyes by looking away from his primary target. I’d also like to see him have better pocket feel which would in turn help out his offensive line.
But when you can throw a ball like that, it’s hard to argue with the result.
Here we see where Coker’s decision-making process is a tad bit slower than necessary. Kiffin calls the perfect play to beat the zone coverage in the money area, yet Coker is unable to pull the trigger on an anticipatory throw to the void of the coverage.
But Coker shows that he, too, is a very good athlete and is not afraid to manufacture first downs of his own. When you’re a 230-pound QB, and can move like that, you know you are working with a very particular set of skills — similar to Liam Neeson in the movie Taken.
Overall Coker had a pretty good game against the Owls (15-of-24 for 202 yards with one TD), especially once his nerves settled down. While Sims had the better statistical day, and the offense seemed to move more efficiently with him, Coker showed that he can be a cog in the machine that is Bama.
Either way Saban ends up going with his final decision, both QBs are worthy of leading the Tide.
Let’s just see it play out without quickly dismissing Sims as if he’s second rate, as he’s proven to be nothing of the sort thus far in the season.