Blake Sims has earned his spot in Alabama's quarterback competition
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. _ The question wasn’t asked during the University of Alabama’s media day on Sunday, but Nick Saban made a point to get it in at the end.
“No one ever seems to ask about Blake Sims,” the coach said after an inquiry about Jacob Coker, “but he has done extremely well so far in camp as well.”
For those who have been overlooking the senior, Sims is No. 6 on the roster and listed as 6 foot, 208 pounds, from Gainesville, Ga. He’s the one who’s actually played for the Crimson Tide before.
While Coker, a high-profile transfer from Florida State, has yet to be made available to reporters, the hype surrounding him in Tuscaloosa has been nothing short of extreme. At 6 foot 5, 230 pounds, he appears to have both the measurables and arm strength that National Football League teams potentially want, never mind the Southeastern Conference.
Meanwhile, Sims has been quietly plugging away, leading his position group through drills during these first few days of training camp. One can imagine how difficult it could be for him to not constantly look over his shoulder, but so far he appears focused on improving his own game.
“It’s fun,” Sims said about the quarterback competition. “I don’t see any negative in it because it’s a lot of guys who have the same motive that you have. They want to be better. They want to be that guy. It makes you better, it makes your team better.
“You see the quarterbacks working hard and have a good attitude it makes the other guys in the offense work harder too.”
Sims, of course, didn’t start out as a quarterback with the Crimson Tide, and even when he was recruited there was a question about what position he should play. Coaches tried him at both wide receiver and running back before he committed to quarterback for the 2012 season.
Consequently, Sims has the unique distinction of having been a backup to Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram Jr., Doak Walker Award winner Trent Richardson and Maxwell Award winner AJ McCarron.
“The most important thing is my leadership,” Sims said about what he worked the most on during the offseason. “I have to be more outspoken. We need more leaders around and I’ve been working on identifying the defense. My footwork.”
The footwork part is one of the most underrated aspects about a quarterback. When its good the offense will execute crisply and run at the high tempo, while poor footwork can lead to late handoffs, poor timing on throws and busted plays.
“It feels better,” Sims said. It’s all confidence, having confidence in yourself and also in your wide receivers. That’s one thing that’s gotten better, but there’s always room to get better.”
Even though he didn’t have a particularly strong A-Day game, completing 13 of 30 passes (43 percent) for 178 yards with two interceptions and one touchdown, Sims worked with the first-unit offense all through the spring.
When Coker was named to the watch list for the Maxwell Award (most outstanding player) and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (best fourth-year quarterback) — which were both won by McCarron last season – and Las Vegas has posted odds on his Heisman Trophy chances, Sims quietly kept plugging along this summer. He regularly threw to receivers like Amari Cooper, did a lot of film study and picked his teammates’ brains.
“I might go to Christion Jones, DeAndrew White, Coop, and ask something like “What’s your way of knowing what you’re going to get?’” Sims said.
He’s also the guy Coker has been working alongside and shadowing during camp, as has redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman. Although sophomore Alec Morris played briefly against Chattanooga, he didn’t attempt a pass.
Overall, Sims has played in 23 games for the Crimson Tide. In eight games last season he completed 18 of 29 passes (62 percent) for 167 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions to go with 15 carries for 61 rushing yards.
In short, he’s essentially the incumbent, the guy who has to get beat out. It’s not the other way around.
“He’s a very athletic guy, he’s got the right character, attitude, work ethic,” Saban said about Coker. “He’s really fit in well with the other players in terms of the kind of personality he has and how they can relate to him. All those things have been extremely positive.
“I see a guy who certainly has raw talent, but I also have seen a little bit of apprehension. He’s a very conscientious guy, he wants to do things right in terms of knowledge and understanding systematically the offense, making the right decisions, getting the ball to the right place. We’re encouraged by what he’s done.’
There’s still roughly three weeks of practices for Coker to get more confident and comfortable, and one shouldn’t overlook that all of the quarterbacks are dealing with a new offensive coordinator in Lane Kiffin.
Yet there’s probably only one other open starting job on the offense, right guard, and no doubt that with all the playmakers on the roster the unit’s potential is enormous this season.
“He’s the centerpiece,” Cooper said about the quarterback position. “He has to play well.”
Alabama’s two scrimmages, this Saturday and a week later, will serve as a measuring stick until the season opener against West Virginia in Atlanta on Aug. 30, when Saban hopes to have a set starter in place.
But if the Crimson Tide suddenly had to play a game tomorrow, the decision would be a no-brainer, Sims would start.