TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban knows who will win at least one of Alabama’s position battles heading into next week’s anticipated season-opener against West Virginia. The problem is, it is not the quarterback. J.K. Scott, the Crimson Tide’s true freshman punter, has "separated himself," according to his head coach.
"He’s the best punter we have," Saban said this week. "I mean, have you seen him punt?"
We had not. Practices and scrimmages are closed to the media, remember.
"Well, that’s an easy one," Saban said.
Saban looked around the room to see if there were any more questions. There were none.
"That’s it?" he said. "You guys are easy today."
If only every day were so simple.
Naming a starting punter is one thing. Finding your next starting quarterback is another. Not when you are replacing a two-time champion in AJ McCarron. Not when you are the consensus No. 2 team in the country coming off back-to-back losses for the first time since 2008. Not when you have two vastly different options to choose from.
The fact that Blake Sims has hung in the competition this long is surprising to many. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the former four-star athlete was wondering if he would play running back or receiver for the Tide. Now, after four years in the system, he has worked on his delivery, studied the playbook and become what coaches and teammates describe as a much more accurate passer.
All of the sudden it’s a race between he and Jake Coker. At least that is what we’re told.
Again, practices and scrimmages are walled off to the prying eyes of the media. And the stats the program typically provides? They have gone missing, too. All that is left is one man’s word to draw from, and there is always the potential for a bit of cat-and-mouse games from Saban.
"Somebody has got to take the job," Saban said. "One day one guy plays really well and you say, 'Well, that looks like that might be it.' And the next day the other guy plays really well.
"I think the good news is we have two guys that I would feel very comfortable playing."
On the one hand is Sims, who is said to have the intangibles: comfort with the offense, command of the huddle and the respect of his teammates. He even has a new mindset, according to safety Jarrick Williams, who said, "Blake has an attitude, you know. He’s taking the competition very seriously."
On the other hand is Coker, who is still 6-foot-5, 230 pounds and blessed with a cannon for an arm -- "You’ve got to watch it in your eyes because it’s humming," said receiver Chris Black. Coker is said to be working on the intangibles, like winning over his teammates and establishing a chemistry with his receivers.
Black said he is often asked about the quarterback competition around town and on campus. His response: "It’s a tough decision. I’ll leave that up to coach Saban."
But the timing of Saban's decision is a topic of debate. A two-quarterback system for the first few weeks of the system is now a distinct possibility. The hope is that by Week 4 against Florida -- after non-conference games against unranked West Virginia, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss -- someone will have seized the job.
Between now and then, the questions about where the quarterback race stands will keep coming. There won’t be many more easy days to talk about the starting punter. And the happy Saban we saw this week? He might revert to the form we saw a week prior when he threatened to withold the scrimmage statistics again if he was asked about the competition once more.
In judging this race, patience is the one and only virtue. Until Week 1 against West Virginia, we won’t know much of anything.
"I would like to see somebody take the bull by the horns from a leadership standpoint, a consistency standpoint and win the job here sometime," Saban said. "But we're not going to make a decision until somebody does that."