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2016 Alabama Football Unit Preview: Quarterbacks

Another year, another quarterback competition. Which quarterback will rise up and set himself apart?

Alabama v Wisconsin Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Alabama is losing several starters off last year’s national championship team. The offense is losing five starters while the defense is looking to replace six of its own. As a result, competition at key positions has been percolating for the Tide this fall.

Right or wrong, no position is more scrutinized during fall camp than the quarterbacks.

The Front-runners

Cooper Bateman (RS Jr.)

What He Has Going For Him:

There is really only one thing that Bateman has above the rest of the players in this competition: experience. While that might not seem like much of an advantage to some, it is probably one of the most crucial factors in the battle for the starting quarterback job.

Saban has always preached protecting the football. A "Saban quarterback" has to be able to know where to go with the football, and he has to be able to limit his mistakes. One of the key advantages about having more experience is that it helps in both of those areas.

The other area that Bateman has working in his favor is his mobility. He isn’t the fastest quarterback on the roster, but he does have more than enough speed to put pressure on opposing defenses and create with his legs.

What He Has Going Against Him:

The thing that hurts Bateman’s chances of winning the quarterback job the most is his lack of arm strength. Up to this point, he hasn’t displayed the necessary velocity on his throws that would allow him to successfully execute the entire playbook. That physical limitation creates a major problem because it will allow opposing defenses to focus in on the run more frequently.

The other major issue with Bateman is one that counters a strength. Yes, he has mobility, but at this point in time, he doesn’t seem to use it properly, or hasn’t shown that will in any event. He didn’t seem comfortable running the zone-read against Ole Miss last year, and it remains to be seen if he has gained any confidence in this area.

Blake Barnett (RS Fr.)

What He Has Going For Him:

Out of all the quarterbacks on the roster, Barnett possesses the strongest combination of all the necessary attributes to be Alabama’s starting quarterback.

He has a year of experience in the system, he has displayed more than enough arm strength an the necessary mobility to create with his legs to take some of the pressure off the running backs.

Since fall camp opened up, Barnett’s chances of winning the job have significantly improved because he seems to have grasped the idea that he doesn’t have to force throws in his quest to reach the top of the depth chart. He has been making better decisions with the football than he did in the Spring, and that could be all he needs to put him over the top in the competition.

The other asset is that, as Saban also preaches, winning the job more than knowing the playbook and protecting the ball: Do you make the guys around you better, do they believe you can run the offense, and does the offense respond. All signs point in that direction, as Barnett earned locker room clout even while redshirting last season. Like Jalen Hurts, he also has that magical, unquantifiable "it" that makes his teammates respond.

What He Has Going Against Him:

Consistency. That one word is the only thing holding Barnett back from becoming everything that Alabama coaches and fans thought he would be and more.

He has made significant strides in his decision making, but he still has to learn to be more consistent in that area. On top of that, Barnett needs to develop more consistency with his mechanics.

He has a quick delivery, but his footwork gives him trouble from time to time, which results in spotty ball placement. If Barnett can continue to improve his decision making and mechanics, he will be Alabama’s quarterback in 2016.

The Dark Horse:

Jalen Hurts (Fr.)

What He Has Going For Him:

Out of all the quarterbacks on Alabama’s roster, Hurts possesses the highest ceiling. He has a smoothness to him that is rare to see from a college quarterback, and he is constantly putting that attribute on display. Throw in the fact that Hurts is only a freshman, and it becomes clear that there is something special about him.

While he is still working out some of the kinks in his game, Hurts has shown above average pocket awareness and a willingness to use his athleticism to extend plays. In the A-Day game, it was refreshing to see the young quarterback keep his eyes downfield and attempt to extend the play rather than just take off at the first sign of a breakdown.

That wasn’t the case on every play for Hurts, but he did show a willingness to try to make something happen downfield rather than just abandon the pass.

What He Has Going Against Him:

The only thing that could hold Hurts back at this point is his youth. He was playing high school football just nine months ago. In addition, he was also running a completely different style of offense than what he is learning at Alabama.

During the Saban era, the lack of experience in the system (not necessarily game action) has usually been the death knell when it comes to a player’s chances of winning the starting quarterback job.

The Depth:

David Cornwell (RS So.)

What He Has Going For Him:

Cornwell has always had an NFL caliber arm. He can make all the throws necessary to succeed not only the college level, but the NFL level as well.

As a redshirt sophomore, Cornwell also has the second most experience of any quarterback on the roster. Three years in Alabama’s system most certainly can’t hurt his chances.

What He Has Going Against Him:

Even before his foot injury derailed any chances he had of winning the job, Cornwell had done nothing to set himself apart in the competition.

He doesn’t have the mobility that any of the other three guys in the competition possess which means that having him in the lineup could put more pressure on the unproven running backs.

It seems as though Cornwell has been eliminated from the competition. Whether it was through his own actions last season, or injuries this season, it just hasn’t worked out for Cornwell in Tuscaloosa.

Final Thoughts:

The guy that wins the quarterback job is going to be the guy that wins the team over with his ability to play on a consistent basis, make the right kind of choices and decisions and show the kind of leadership to affect other people. I think this is something that everybody in the group needs to work on.

Saban has clearly laid out what every quarterback needs to do in order to win the job. Now, it’s a matter of going out there and improving, developing, and executing.

Alabama’s quarterback competition is still very much up in the air. Cornwell has been all-but eliminated from the competition, but the other three players are all still battling it out. All three of the remaining contenders bring their own strengths to the offense, but it remains to be seen which of the three can step up and win the team over.

Last year, it was clear that Barnett wasn’t ready to take the reins as a true freshman. As a result, he was never really a threat to Coker’s job. That is not the case with this year’s true freshman. Hurts has a real chance to win the job, but that doesn’t mean he is going to be the guy jogging out with the starting offense against USC on September 3rd.

To me, this competition is probably going to come down to Bateman or Barnett. If Barnett can continue to improve with his decision making and mechanics, I believe he gives Alabama the best chance at winning another national championship in 2016.