Editor: I am proud to officially announce that Murf Baldwin has agreed to join RBR and will be providing his excellent insight and film breakdowns as a staff writer. Murf was a featured columnist who covered the Falcons and Saints for Bleacher Report, he currently provides coverage for SBN's Falcoholic and is a contributing writer for the Barrow County News. His addition to the team will only further RBR's stellar reputation as the Champagne of 'Bama blogs.
Don't forget to follow Murf on twitter @MurfBaldwin
Alabama's annual A-day game was revealing on quite a few fronts: the talent goes three-deep at certain positions (as usual), there will be tweaks in both philosophy and scheme—on both sides of the ball, but most importantly it revealed that the quarterback position would take a major step back in talent if rolled out as presently constructed.
This is why incoming Florida State transfer Jacob Coker should be the odds-on favorite to land the starting gig at signal-caller on perception alone. And as the modified version of an old adage goes: perception is nine-10ths the law.
Now let's be clear, with a career stat line that reads: 21-of-41 for 295 yards, one touchdown and one interception, in two seasons for the Seminoles, breaking out the anointing oil for Coker seems a bit premature.
That is until you match his skill set with what new Bama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin needs in order to orchestrate his precise, yet explosive, style of offensive football.
Philosophy Meets Skill Set
Most are under the impression that Kiffin was brought in to implement head coach Nick Saban's offensive philosophy. While it's clear that Saban's fingerprints will be all over every aspect of the Alabama football program—as long as he's at the helm—you don't bring in someone with the type of cache as Kiffin to have him simply be a bus driver.
Supporters at The Capstone can expect a lot of three- and five-step drops, short-to-intermediate throws, tons of play-action from under center, sprint-outs and explosive plays targeting the deep quadrants.
To really get the gist of what Kiffin's philosophy entails, one should look no further than his two stints at the University of Southern California—first as an offensive coordinator (2005-06) and most recently as the head coach (2010-13). Quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Matt Barkley recorded impressive numbers in Kiffin's finely tuned scheme, respectively.
It wasn't until an injury to Barkley, and his subsequent graduation, that we saw Kiffin's scheme fall on rocky times with younger QBs Max Wittek and Cody Kessler —ultimately leading to his dismissal as head coach.
He will now have two years to develop the uber-talented Coker while making use of the Tide's plentiful personnel on offense. Kiffin runs a modified version of the West Coast offense requiring accuracy in the short-to-intermediate game, mobility and the ability to adjust protections according to defensive looks.
What his system doesn't require is superb arm strength. Both Leinart and Barkley were extremely accurate with anticipatory throws but lacked the arm strength to effectively execute opposite hash tosses purely on arm talent.
Here we see an example of Coker's arm talent. He throws a fade to the receiver on the opposite hash before the corner knows what hit him. A great deal of college-based offenses work to the shorter side of the field (referred to as the boundary) because most QBs don't have the arm talent to complete the longer throws.
This is one of the reasons we saw Kiffin often shrink the field for Barkley—like in the above GIF. Without the proper amount of arm strength these throws tend to hang in the air making them ripe for the picking (literally). The ability to drive the ball is what Coker does best at this point in his career and we can expect Kiffin to take full advantage of that aspect.
Here's Coker practicing an opposite hash throw. The throw is effortless; it's on a frozen rope. Coker's arm talent is very reminiscent of one of Kiffin's last QBs at Southern Cal in Wittek. At 6'5", 230 pounds, Coker is virtually the same size as Wittek (6'4", 235 lbs)—who arrived in Los Angeles as highly ranked recruit (along with Kessler).
Inaccuracies in the short game plagued Wittek in his brief time under Kiffin. The coach was under scrutiny for his lack of success and it was widely known that his time was running out—thus not affording him the opportunity to bring Wittek along slowly. It also didn't help that Kessler was highly ranked with a skill set similar to Barkley's.
While Kessler doesn't have the type of arm strength as a Wittek, his accuracy was a perfect match for a West Coast offense. As it pertains to Coker, Kiffin will find out that his accuracy is closer to Wittek's at times, but it's mostly due to inconsistencies in his mechanics.
Here's a perfect example of how Kiffin will help Coker with his accuracy. In this play-action throw Coker had to wait for the receiver to uncover. But instead of resetting his feet, and stepping up in the pocket, he drifts backwards.
He ends up not getting enough on the throw; the receiver had to wait for the pass.
Here we see Coker throwing a dig route. With in-breaking routes, you want to drive the ball while leading your defender into the open void. Watch how Coker's mechanics fail him with a seemingly routine throw.
His dropback is very text book, his cross-steps are nailed and he evens transitions his weight to his back foot. But then he stands entirely too tall with not much bend his knee as he hitches up in the pocket.
The reason for the bend in his knee is so that he can point to his target, with his lead foot, and drive off his back leg. By standing tall he can't possibly get enough torque on the throw and will have to throw it primarily from his upper-body. The result are damning as he overshoots the target.
Kiffin is a stickler for detail and will drill proper mechanics into his young signal-caller on a daily basis. Coker is extremely accurate when his mechanics hold true. When you have as big an arm as Coker does, and you have the mechanics to back it up, it's safe to say you have a chance to succeed with the best of them.
But one thing Coker is not normally lauded for, but will work well in Kiffin's scheme, is his athleticism. Because of his size Coker is often compared to Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers). But when you really study his mobility—and consider the total package— Jay Cutler (Chicago Bears) may be a better comparison.
It's not out of the realm of possibility that Coker can have some runs designed for him. But his mobility will fit perfect in the naked bootleg game, sprint-outs and the occasional read-option play. Not to mention it will be important as Bama's offensive line undergoes a bit of a revamp.
With all due respect to current Bama QBs Blake Sims and Cooper Bateman, Coker has more tools at his disposal which also meshes perfect with what Kiffin is implementing. When you factor in that Bama's offense is loaded to the max, having a play-maker like Coker as its linchpin may take the offense to new heights.
If it doesn't work out for the better, it won't be from a lack of talent or an improper fit within the scheme.