HURT: Depth chart sheds no light on QB situation
Has there ever been a Hollywood blockbuster that adhered so closely to its original script as this year's quarterback competition at the University of Alabama?
Monday marked the release of the first official depth chart for the Crimson Tide's 2011 season, but the bracketing of sophomore AJ McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims as co-quarterbacks was inevitable (barring some unforeseen mishap) from the very first day of spring practice last March. UA head coach Nick Saban hasn't deviated in his public statements. Both quarterbacks will play. One will take the first snap against Kent State, assuming UA doesn't line up in some sort of trick formation. Taking that first snap will make someone technically "first," but it may only be first among equals. That is what Saban meant in his press conference, even if it came out sounding as if he was channeling his inner Les Miles.
"One of them will have to go out there first," Saban said when asked about the two quarterbacks. "But I don't think that necessarily means that one guy is the starter."
For anyone who is slightly foggy on how that works, here is the explanation. While someone will get to back the car out of the driveway, Saban isn't necessarily letting him keep the keys. "Starting quarterback" can be defined narrowly as "first guy on the field," but for most football teams, it means more. It is a quarterback who knows that his position is assured and unassailable under all except the most drastic circumstances. By necessity, it relegates the other candidate into a role as well: 'backup quarterback." That's not the worst fate in the world - few players are as perennially popular at Alabama as the No. 2 quarterback - but it isn't where either McCarron or Sims want to end up. At this point, Saban isn't ready to relegate either into that limbo.
The best crucible for testing the mettle of players - and this is particularly true for quarterbacks - is on the field of play. There is nothing wrong with looking at live action before making a decision - if there is an ultimate "decision" to be made. Saban didn't even want to go that far in discussing the situation, because if he treats the first two games like a job interview, one of the candidates (or both) could get nervous.
"I don't think one guy has clearly separated himself from the other and I think that both guys will be given the chance to play in the game," Saban said. "They will know exactly how they are going to play in the game and (that) the consequences of their play will not be a factor as to whether they continue to play in whatever (role) is programmed for them to play. In other words, I don't want any player out there looking over his shoulder thinking, 'If I make one bad play, you are going to pull me out of the game.' That's not going to happen. We're going to let the guys play… Then we'll assess where we think they are."
Saban did show he knows his fan base (and every college fan base) when he said that "everybody will choose" between the two. The "everybody" seemed to imply external choices, not a division among the team itself, but here is the quote.
"I'm sure by doing this, we will create (a situation) - which is not a positive thing - (where) everybody will choose up which guy they want on their team… That's what is going to happen. And I hate that it's going to happen, but in fairness to the players, I think both deserve an opportunity."
That scenario was probably predictable long ago, too.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com.