The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

March 15, 2014

Alabama, Kiffin start Phase 1 of QB search

By Jonathan Deal
Associated Press

— TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama began its quest to find a new starting quarterback with five candidates on campus and a big-name position coach in Lane Kiffin.

The Crimson Tide opened spring practice Saturday on an idyllic, sunny afternoon in what likely amounts to Phase 1 of the search for AJ McCarron's successor as the offensive leader. Alabama, winner of three of the last five national titles, hopes it also starts the team on a path toward redemption after losing its final two games.

Florida State transfer quarterback Jake Coker won't arrive until this summer after graduating but is already the presumed front-runner for the starting job.

"I think all of you know that the quarterback competition this spring is going to be something that a lot of people are going to get a lot of opportunity at," Saban told reporters. "Jacob is not going to be here in the spring, but he's certainly going to get an opportunity when he gets here as well.

"That's going to be the goal to develop each of our quarterbacks and see which one we feel give would have the best opportunity to be successful next year."

The five spring contenders include freshman David Cornwell, who underwent knee surgery during his senior season in high school, and last year's backup Blake Sims.

Saban said the mobile Sims is still working on becoming a more consistent passer. Kiffin, a former Tennessee and Southern California head coach, replaced Doug Nussmeier as the Tide's new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

He's working with those two QBs plus Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod this spring.

"I think he came in and made the offense more simple and player friendly," receiver Amari Cooper said. "The way plays are called, it's easy to recognize what you have to do as a player."

Sims is the only one of the quarterbacks who has thrown a pass in college. Saban said coaches are going to need to be patient and not too hasty to criticize the inexperienced quarterbacks.

"It's all about playing winning football and that's something you can evaluate in practice every day and I think that a lot of our guys that we have ability," he said. "They don't have a lot of experience and it would be a work in progress all spring to see how they develop.

"Maybe the other guys will play a little better in the scrimmage. So it's going to be a long time in us developing those players."

The Tide must replace other stars, including linebacker C.J. Mosley, left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in addition to McCarron, the Heisman Trophy runner up.

Saban praised the Tide's offseason attitude and work ethic, but the motivation was different than usual. Instead of trying to defend a national championship, Alabama is trying to bounce back from a disappointing finale after losing to Auburn and getting roughed up 45-31 by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

"Guys are just a lot more hungry," linebacker Trey DePriest said. "We didn't finish the season like we wanted to. Guys knew that and they just took a different approach to it, and are trying to get back to the standard to how we do stuff."

There was some offseason attrition for the Tide, with Saban announcing three more departures on Saturday..

Saban said center Chad Lindsay and tight end Harrison Jones, brother of former Tide star Barrett Jones, have graduated and decided to leave the program.

Lindsay started four games last season when Ryan Kelly was injured, including the Auburn game. He and Jones are eligible to play for another school immediately.

Defensive back Jai Miller, a 29-year-old sophomore who spent 10 years playing minor league baseball, has decided to give up football and focus on academics, at least for now, Saban said.

Tide coaches are experimenting with wide receiver ArDarius Stewart at safety, though Saban stressed that could only be temporary.

Alabama will work a week before taking off for spring break.