Nick Saban understands the situation he is in. He also understands it is not exactly ideal.
Alabama’s coach will enter the 2011 season with one of the nation’s most talented football teams.
Ten starters return on defense and the offense has the experience and talent to put up fine numbers this season.
But experience fades at the most important position on the field -- quarterback.
That’s not comforting knowing that the Tide still has to play another season in the SEC, where life can be pure hell for quarterbacks, especially young ones.
So, with two quarterbacks neck-and-neck in one of the nation’s biggest quarterback battles, Saban says he will not hesitate to play both in games.
“We want to continue to bring both guys along as best we can, and I think it’s only fair that both guys have an opportunity to play in games before any kind of decision gets made about who’s the best player,” Saban said. “Maybe, even, there isn’t a best player. There’s just two really good players.”
The use of a multiple-quarterback system has its perks and its drawbacks. It can be tough for offenses to get into rhythm with the switching, but using quarterbacks with different styles can also have the same effect on opposing defenses.
See the 2006 Florida Gators, who used Chris Leak as their primary passer and Tim Tebow as the running threat. It was successful enough to guide the Gators to a national championship.
However, that tactic backfired for Florida last season. John Brantley was used in passing situations, while Trey Burton and Jordan Reed were the run threats. Eventually, Brantley and Reed took the bulk of the snaps, and there were times where Brantley was brought in only for third downs, leading to a very predictable and underwhelming offense.
“I feel the one-quarterback system is better because it’s the quarterback,” Florida wide receiver Deonte Thompson said. “You don’t want to keep taking him out of the game and then just put him in on third down and he doesn’t even know the tempo of the game.”
Florida’s team passing efficiency was 117.29, while the offense ranked 82nd nationally.
That won’t stop teams from attempting this task. Ole Miss currently has three quarterbacks battling, but both offensive coordinator David Lee and quarterback Barry Brunetti wouldn’t be surprised if all three took snaps during games this fall.
"I'll tell you this, fellas, and I really believe it -- I think we can play with all three of these guys in this offense. It's not like none of them can play,” Lee told members of the media last week. “I think all three of them can play."
Brunetti and Randall Mackey are superb running threats for the Rebels, while Zack Stoudt is most definitely more of a passing threat, so Brunetti said he could see the coaches using each in different situations during games and expects the competition to continue throughout the season.
Like the Rebels, Auburn also has three quarterbacks battling and also like the Rebels, Auburn has one true pro-style quarterback (junior Barrett Trotter) and two more athletic dual-threats (freshmen Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier).
Trotter appears to have a slight edge at the moment, but Tigers could change the pace up by using the other two at times.
One team that always seems caught up in the two-quarterback system is LSU. The Tigers have yet another trio to work with in Jordan Jefferson, the unquestioned starter, senior Jarrett Lee and junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger.
There is a ton of hype surrounding Mettenberger and his big arm, but he and just about everyone else in Baton Rouge acknowledges that Jefferson is the starter. But Mettenberger still expects to get valuable playing time this season.
What a coincidence. Jefferson is a strong runner and Mettenberger is a more gifted passer.
For Mettenberger to get into some sort of in-game rotation he’ll have to learn and mature a little more. Jefferson is not concerned about sharing snaps, since splitting time will help Mettenberger's development for not just the fall but also the future.
“I’m doing whatever it takes to make sure that he’s prepared because there is going to be a time in his career where he’s going to become the starter,” Jefferson said.