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35 Days ‘Til Alabama Football: Blake Sims led with a smile

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And became a record holder in the process.

Sims Helmet

There are many ways to describe Blake Sims: athletic, versatile, agile, resilient. But, despite a career trajectory that saw him signed as an athlete, play as a running back, and then move to quarterback, there’s probably no better way to describe him than “fun.”

Sims, a 4-star athlete out of Georgia, was considered for many positions. In his first year, the speedy, long utility man actually was in the backfield. However, with A.J. McCarron firmly entrenched as the starting QB, and the Tide having lost Philip Sims (among others,) depth was needed at signal-caller. Sims, who played high school quarterback, steadily worked his way out of the backfield and into the rotation under center.

As an understudy to McCarron in ‘12 and ‘13, Sims played in 23 games seeing mop up duty where he only had 39 attempts for 244 yards (2TD, 0 INT.) With A.J. moving on to the Bengals, the Tide’s quarterback competition in 2014 eventually whittled itself down to redshirt junior Jake Coker and Sims.

And, was it a competition. Neither player had really impressed in the Fall camp. Sims skills were limited as a passer, but he had confidence and experience. Jake Coker had sat out the year previously, missing spring: some of the skills were there, but the mental part of his game and knowledge of the playbook were not. Sims’ experience and his demeanor in the locker room eventually earned him the halting nod at quarterback: It was clear the whomever started would be on a short leash.

Fortunately for Alabama, Lane Kiffin’s horizontal offense and incorporation of spread elements wound up being the perfect balm for the weaknesses in Blake’s game. He won the starting job.

Auburn v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

That season had its ups and downs to be sure, both as the Tide was learning how to work with Lane Kiffin’s offense, and how Lane Kiffin was learning to work with Blake Sims. But, eventually they settled on a strategy it’s hard to fault: Get the ball to Amari Cooper.

Mission accomplished. In 2014, Sims found Amari Cooper 124 times for 1727 yards and 16 touchdowns -- all of those would be school records. The 124 catches are an SEC record. Sims-to-Cooper earned Amari Alabama’s first Biletnikoff trophy, a third place finish in the Heisman balloting, All-SEC and consensus All-American honors, and eventually a first-round, 4th overall selection by the NFL’s Oakland Raiders.

The pair would also give us one of the more fun things in recent Alabama history: Lane Kiffin signaling touchdown on the sluggo route before the ball was even thrown:

Kiffin TD

And that really was the takeaway from 2014. Fun.

If any team could have used an injection of fun, it was Alabama.

The ‘14 Crimson Tide came into the season having lost a ton of starters and, worse, found itself on a two-game losing streak that essentially rendered 2013’s 11 wins moot. Post-Kick Six, post-another-Sugar-Bowl-Loss, post-staff-shakeup, ‘Bama found itself in transition: It was trying to move to a lighter, leaner defense; it was trying to modernize the defensive schemes; it was trying to recruit more athletic quarterbacks and modernize the offensive; it was trying to overcome loss of talent and injuries in the secondary -- That 2014 season of flux could have been one of frustrating losses, of square pegs in round holes, of “wait-til-next-year” thinking.

Instead, the Tide found a young aggressive offensive coordinator the players loved, and a veteran athlete willing to lead with a smile in the locker room and more than a few “wow” moments on the field. It also found a head coach willing to constrain his more conservative impulses and let the tandem of Kiffin and Sims do what they best. And the Alabama offense rode that hot hand all the way to an unexpected SEC championship and an appearance in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

This was one of the best coaching jobs of Saban’s career, and one of the finest moments for Lane Kiffin.

In that transition year where the Tide cast caution to the wind, Sims’ name became etched in Alabama’s record book. He has thrown for the 3rd most attempts in a season (391,) third-most completions (252,) third longest streak without an interception (156,) the second-most passing touchdowns in a season (28,) second-most touchdowns in a game (4,) and he holds Alabama records for most passing yards in a season (3,487) and completion percentage for a game — a 23-of-27 (85.2%) performance against Missouri in the 2014 SECCG. In addition to the damage in the air, Blake added 350 yards on the ground and seven more touchdowns. When the season was over, he set an Alabama record for 35 touchdowns scored in a season (just recently surpassed by Jalen Hurts.)

For Blake Sims, 2014 would be his vindication — from running back, to scout team, to clipboard holder, to eventual starter, to All-SEC performer: this is how you want to reward those guys who buy in, who lead through example, who sublimate their own goals for the team. You will not find a player more loved and respected among the Alabama program than Blake Sims.

Blake graduated in 2015 and then tried his hand with two CFL teams. In 2016, he renewed his effort to make an NFL squad, having several tryouts at running backs. We can happily report that Blake Sims is on the Tampa Bay Bucs practice squad for the second-consecutive year, where he plays running back. We wish him all the best; he’s deserved whatever success he can find.

Roll Tide, Blake

35 days ‘til Alabama football.