Owing to Alabama’s yearly exodus of talent to the NFL, there has been a fairly stead refrain at RBR used to describe position battles and depth entering spring. But rarely has it been as true as it is this season, and at this position:
“Long on potential and talent, short on experience.”
With the departure of former Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, and two years of Alabama teams that were in a lot more close games than we had previously been accustomed to, the Crimson Tide finds itself facing a quarterback room with just one returning start, little development among the backups, two true freshman, and two “veterans” that have combined for 58 attempts between them...and the one with the most snaps is likely not even favored to win the job.
Depth simply never got a chance to be developed. And not only is one entering sophomore not even necessarily favored over another, there’s no guarantee that either of them can stave off the entering freshmen, who can have a lot to say about who’s under center this fall.
You have to go back to the 2015 season to find such a wide open competition. It worked out that year, sure. But the early season was brutal, as the Tide could not find its way in the passing game — and there was always a guy named Derrick Henry to lean on. Suffice it to say, there is no such luxury this year. Nor is it a guarantee that whomever wins the job will necessarily keep it all season long...or that they will not be subject to rotation throughout the year, or a game-by-game evaluation and competition that lasts well into the heart of the SEC schedule.
Hold on to your butts, this is gonna’ be a dicey early season.
Jalen Milroe (Soph)
4-Star, 6’2”, 240 lbs
Milroe was the clear QB2 last season, much to the surprise of some. He had been in the program longer, knew the playbook a bit more, and offered a lot more in the way of athleticism...but it was the ‘everything else’ part of the position he struggled with: quick reads, recognition, and especially accuracy. He was a sub-60% passer (31 of 53 (58.5%)), who threw 3 interceptions in limited playing time, and had a paltry 5.6 YPA, for just 297 total yards. He did notch 5 TDs on the year in the passing game, but three of those came in the same game — which was the only time in conference play he went above 50% passing, too.
His greater value was in what he could do with his legs. Milroe is super-powerful, and very fleet. He notched almost as many yards on the ground (265) as he did throwing, and tallied 8.5 YPA with a rushing TD. Just as that Texas A&M game was his passing high water mark for the year, taking over for an injured Young in Fayetteville was his shining moment on the ground: 6 for 91 yards and a score.
The Texas A&M game showed that Alabama can win with Milroe if everything goes right, and the Arkansas game showed that he can light up soft ground defenses, but Jalen’s accuracy and processing speed is going to need to get a lot better, a lot quicker if he expects to be a full-time starter. If he’s not appreciably improved, the. I just don’t see him being the first option under center. Tommy Rees did not leave Notre Dame to inherit another quarterback mess with a fan base even more rabid and impatient than the Domers.
Ty Simpson (Soph)
5-Star, 6’2”, 203 lbs
This was the player many had pegged to be Bryce’s backup last season. But, you know, sometimes freshmen just aren’t ready. It was clear in the Spring game that the level of competition and the speed of play in the SEC was going to be a bit of a learning curve for Ty. Simpson had been praised for adroitly picking up the playbook, and physically he was ready. But it’s a demanding position, and he simply wasn’t ready to assume the mantle. No shame in that. It took Mac Jones almost four years to be a quality starter, and it was not until his 5th year that we saw a superstar, continuing a trend of older veteran QBs who grow into stardom (Hooker, Burrow, etc.)
He has all of the physical skills in the world. And though we think of Milroe as “the running quarterback,” Simpson doesn’t lack for athleticism. He’s not going to tuck and run as much as someone like Tua. But, like BY, he has a preternatural knack for escaping the rush to keeping plays alive and his eyes downfield. He’s always looking for a play with his arm.
I don’t think anyone expects it to take years for Ty to be ready to helm the offense, however, He was playing and processing at a different level in the bowl practices and offseason drills than he had been earlier in the season, so he’s already getting there. If you put a gun to the coaching staffs’ heads, in a moment of candor they’d probably admit they want to see Simpson claim the QB1 job with a no-doubt offseason of quality practices and a crisp, efficient spring game. (He’s also helped himself out a lot by putting on nearly 20 pounds since he enrolled at a scrawny 185 pounds.)
Ty’s probably the favorite for the starting job, despite playing in just four games and completing 4 of 5 for 35 yards. And I stand by my prediction of last year too: I still think he has a better career than Arch Manning.
Dylan Lonergan (Fr.)
4-Star, 6’2”, 212 lbs
First, the boring biographicals:
A multi-sport athlete who excelled on the football field and baseball diamond ... a consensus four-star signee at the quarterback position who accumulated 3,932 total yards (3,412 passing) and 39 touchdowns (32 passing) as a junior at Brookwood High School ... rated No. 26 in the ESPN300, No. 5 at the quarterback position and No. 15 in the Southeast Region, while checking in as the No. 3 player from the state of Georgia by ESPN.com ... 247Composite ranked him No. 91 overall, No. 10 at his position and No. 4 in Georgia
Now, for the eyeball test. Lonergan was the last QB to sign with the Tide this offseason, and did despite Julian Sayin already committing for 2024, and the Tide’s QB room having two, perhaps three potential starters. That says something about his willingness to compete, at least.
He’s bit bulkier than he appears on film, and that’s also to his credit. He’s an RPO kid, and the style of play he’s most comfortable with has entailed taking a lot of punishment. That also scares you: because while he can feel pressure immediately behind him, and is unafraid to tuck and run, he also takes a lot of hard shots laterally. I’m unsure if that’s a peripheral vision thing or just a willingness to take shots to get the extra yard or two. If it’s the former, then he will need to grow a lot more aware, if it’s the latter, then for the love of god, get down. Those are a lot of injuries and fumbles waiting to happen. In the SEC, the pressure comes at you from everywhere, and often at NFL speed.
He doesn’t have the best arm strength and deep ball, but he has a very nice touch inside of 20-25 yards, with a sweet little drop-pass that he can doink over the top of defenders in the zone. Unusually for an RPO player, Lonergan also reads zones well. He doesn’t make mistakes that beats his team on the play, but his arm strength does somewhat curtail the offense.
It will really depend on what kind of scheme Rees wants to run, but Lonergan reminds you most of a former Notre Dame signal-caller: Ian Book. If Lonergan wins the job, you can expect a more RPO-heavy scheme, with more PA West Coast passing concepts kept within 10-13 yards from the LOS and plenty of keepers, particularly up the middle when the second level turns their back to the play: YAC is the name of his game, not air yards. Remember Blake Sims? That kind of offense.
To my eyes though, he’s probably the rawest passer of the group outside of Milroe.
Eli Holstein (Fr.)
4-Star, 6’4”, 237 lbs
First, the boring biographicals:
One of the top quarterback prospects in the 2023 recruiting cycle ... a strong-armed pocket passer with excellent athletic ability ... unanimous four-star recruit ... ESPN.com’s No. 22 player nationally and the No. 4 pocket-passer ... also listed as the No. 12 player in the Southeast Region and the No. 2 player in Louisiana by ESPN
threw for 5,720 yards, 54 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions as a three-year starter for head coach David Brewerton at Zachary High School ... also amassed 1,037 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns in his career ... completed 65.2 percent of his passes as a senior for 2,153 yards and 22 touchdowns against three interceptions while rushing for 505 yards and nine scores ... led his team to the Louisiana Class 5A State Championship as a junior in 2021
Perhaps fittingly, Eli shares a name with both a district in Northern Germany and a cow. Holstein is a hoss.
An absolute unit.
T H I C C.
My large adult son.
Oh lawd, he comin’.
He’s the biggest quarterback Alabama has had since Big Country Jake Coker, and probably has a bigger arm than Jake too.
And, man, does Eli leverage that size to his advantage in play style. It begins with his arm, which to use a term of art, is an absolute cannon. He makes 45-50 air yards look effortless, as though there’s plenty left in reserve — and those balls get there in a hurry too. But it’s not just the distance and zip, he has incredible touch on those downfield shots, much akin to a stronger-armed Mac Jones. Yet for such a strong-armed player, one of the more impressive parts of his game is knowing when to take some mustard off the pass, a skill he uses often in the redzone.
On the ground, he’s a load and relishes contact. You can see many defenders making a business decision downfield to stay “blocked” rather than taking a head-on collision with a guy that outweighs them by 75 pounds. You know who he reminds you of in that respect? Joe Burrow, another big kid who loved the middle of the field and trucking defenders.
If there’s any one glaring demerit you could give his passing game, it is in mechanical consistency. Sometimes he tends to aim the ball rather than throw it, and when he does that, his shoulder drops and his passes are low. That’s a good thing, on outside routes when you’re being safe; less good on others. His footwork can also get a bit sloppy at times. Not quite happy feet, but chaotic. He needs polish, in other words. But it seems to be a matter of coaching, not mental acuity or physical tools. He can get there.
You know by now that Josh and I rarely agree on anything, but we are in accord: We really like Holstein’s size, arm, physicality and DGAF.
What to look for?
I think it’s pretty clear the incumbents are going to get the early looks. But each of these four players does something completely different and unique from one another. You have a bigger-armed Burrow clone who seemingly loves chaos and contact; you have the RPO guy with the outstanding short- and intermediate-touch; you have the big play Sophomore who seems to have the potential to put it all together; and you have the experienced backup, who’s already won SEC games under center, but is a better runner than thrower.
It’s not reductive to say that the playcalls are going to determine the success of each one of these players. And, under different staffs, you can see different guys thriving to varying degrees. But that’s in a normal year. All we have to go on for the moment are assumptions, and if there’s any one takeaway, it’s that whoever wins the starting job will likely dictate the playcalling, not vice versa. Holstein’s talents are wasted calling Notre Dame’s offense. Milroe is not the guy you want trying to wing it downfield a la Mike Locksley, etc.
It will also be an exciting race, where the margin between No. 2 and No. 4 is perhaps closer than we’ve ever seen it.
Who’s winning the starting job?
This poll is closed