Who’ll play quarterback?

As the Tide prepares for the season opener against USC, Nick Saban addressed some big questions on Monday in his press conference. First and foremost, of course, was at quarterback, where competition in camp boiled down to Cooper Bateman, Blake Barnett and true freshman Jalen Hurts.

Saban discussed where the race stands at this point.

“We’re sort of down to two guys here,” Saban said. “Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett are probably the two guys we’re getting ready to play in this game, and that’s the way it’s going to be for right now.”

Bateman, a redshirt junior, gained valuable experience last season getting reps each week as the backup to Jake Coker.

“I think the big thing is that Cooper has a great knowledge of the offense. He manages things well, because of his knowledge and experience,” Saban said.

“I think he’s continued to improve his passing ability and we have a lot of confidence in him. We feel good about the progress that he’s made.”

Barnett is a redshirt freshman and it appears he is ready to play.

“I think that, in Blake’s case, he’s been here a little longer,” Saban said. “He’s got a little better knowledge of the offense. He’s a more confident in what he’s doing. He’s gotten bigger and stronger. He’s throwing the ball effectively.

“One of our strengths on our team are the receivers. We want to continue to try to have an offense that can create explosive plays through those guys. So Blake has really been an effective passer for us, so we want to try to continue to develop him and see where his knowledge and experience will take him relative to whether we feel like he can be a winning player at that position or not.”

On Hurts, Saban said, “Jalen has a tremendous future. He’s got great ability. I think that what you have to be really concerned about is, is a guy ready to go out there and not just do things that he can do, but can he run the offensive team? If the back is lined up on the wrong side, is he going to put him on the right side? Is he going to be able to point out the protection right so that we can pick up the blitz? These things are things that we want to be able to continue to develop in the players, so that when they go out not the field, they can have success.”

Saban seem to indicate that Hurts might still be a factor at quarterback this season.

“Jalen Hurts has tremendous ability,” Saban said. “We are not giving up on that ability. Hopefully we’ll be able to develop it so that at some point in time this season, he’s going to be a productive player for us.”

Saban was asked, in determining a starter, what were benefits of playing two quarterbacks early in the season.

“Because I can’t tell you how they’re going to play in the game, especially with guys who have never played in a game,” Saban replied. “Cooper has played in a game here, which I think that experience is certainly a benefit to him. Some guys go into a game and play a lot better. I can’t tell you that about two of our guys (Barnett and Hurts), because they’ve never played in a game before. That’s the reason it’s hard to think that you have a crystal ball and you look in it and say that a certain person is going to play better. I don’t know that. I don’t have the ability to do that. Sometimes maybe you can be risk aversive and you don’t find out. Maybe sometimes you try to find out and things backfire on you too. So there’s no perfect way to do it.”

Saban stressed that all areas of the team, including the quarterbacks, needed improvement.

“We’re going to try to continue to develop all of our guys,” Saban said. “When we make this decision, it’s about what’s going to give us the best chance to win this game, but it’s also about future development of our players. We want to play the guy that’s going to give us the best chance, but we also want to develop guys that can compete at this position in the future. That’s kind of where it is right now.”

“We’ve always played two guys here and I think the two guys that we will play are Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris,” Saban said. “They’re the guys that have been in the program the longest and they’ve had the best camps. We have two young guys, both of the freshmen running backs (B.J. Emmons and Joshua Jacobs), we want to try to continue to try to develop, and they could see action in the game as well.”



In recent practices, Bradley Bozeman and Ross Pierschbacher have flipped positions. Bozeman has been at center with Pierschbacher sliding to right guard. Saban was asked about the moves.

“We’re going to play Bradley at center and Ross at right guard,” Saban said. “So it wasn’t a competition at center. It what’s the best combination of guys for us to play. So that’s kind of how it is.”

In 2014, when Ryan Kelly went down with an injury, Bozeman started two games at center. Pierschbacher started all 15 games last season at left guard before moving to center in the spring.

Pierschbacher said that he was willing to do whatever was best for the team. He doesn’t think right guard will be a big adjustment.

“Call-wise, it’s basically the same (as center),” Pierschbacher said. “I’d just say, with the stance, it’s getting comfortable with that and having to switch feet around.”

Pierschbacher said that Bozeman had looked good at center in practices.

“He’s done a great job picking up the slack,” Pierschbacher said. “He’s played center before in the past. He’s done a great job. There’s been no drop-off and that’s been nice to see.”



One of the most impressive freshmen in camp has been Trevon Diggs, who has worked at wide receiver and safety.

“Trevon Diggs is a very talented guy,” Saban said. “We certainly feel like he’s a guy who can make plays as a receiver. So we want to try to utilize that ability. We’re a little deeper at receiver right now, so it would be a little more difficult getting him the playing time that we feel he deserves. We have some depth issues in the secondary. He played defensive back very well in high school. Actually talked about playing defensive back when he was being recruited, so we thought he was the best guy to try and get some repetitions and that he could help us in the secondary. He’s handled it very well.

“I think he was doing extremely well until we started putting in a gameplan. Then the formations changed that they run on the other team and the adjustments changed a little bit, so that’s usually the challenge for young players, especially a guy who was just learning the position to start with. But he’s a bright guy. He’s very conscientious. It’s important to him. We think he can develop into being a really good player for us on both sides of the ball.”

On the depth chart released today, Diggs was listed as the second punt return man behind Calvin Ridley. He’s listed first with ArDarius Stewart as kickoff return men.



“We’re excited for game week. I know our players are excited to have the opportunity to play a great program with a great tradition like the University of Southern California. This is a always sort of a bowl-like atmosphere when you play in these neutral site games.

“Southern Cal has got an outstanding team. Clay Helton has been there for a good while. They’ve been very productive offensively under him. They have nine starters back on offense. A very, very good offensive team. A couple of good runners (Justin Davis and Ronald Jones). JuJu Smith-Schuster is as good a receiver as we’ll play. The offensive line has a whole bunch of starts between them and they’re very quality football players. They’ve been able to run the ball effectively against most people that they’ve played. I know they have a new quarterback (Max Browne), but he’s a very talented guy and I am sure he will do a great job for them. Defensively, all word is that they’re much improved. They’ve got a new coordinator (Clancy Pendergast). They’ve got an influx of new players. Very explosive in the kicking game.

“Overall, I think this is an outstanding team and I think it’s going to be a real challenge for us in many, many ways.”

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