Can Jacob Coker Handle the Pressure with Alabama Crimson Tide?
The question of who would replace AJ McCarron under center for the Alabama Crimson Tide appears to have gotten a bit of clarity with the announcement that Jacob Coker would be transferring from the Florida State Seminoles for the 2014 season. Because Coker will stay in Tallahassee to finish his degree, the redshirt junior will be eligible to play immediately next fall and is coming to Tuscaloosa with a mountain of expectations awaiting him. Can he handle that kind of pressure and return the Tide to the top of college football?
Last summer, Coker very nearly won the starting quarterback job at FSU over Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. While he eventually lost that competition and watched from the sidelines as the phenomenal freshman took the Noles to a national title, coaches still raved about Coker’s talent. Quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders said that he had “never had anybody with [Coker's] size who throws it as well as he does.” Every coach he has had lauds Coker’s competitiveness, athleticism, and ability to make plays.
That made the 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback the perfect target for Nick Saban as he looked for McCarron’s successor. It was a natural fit for Coker, a life-long Alabama fan who attended the same high school as McCarron and even works out with the same quarterback coach as the former Tide QB in their hometown of Mobile. It was a bit of a surprise that Coker didn’t end up at Alabama right out of high school but he’s still going to be welcomed with open arms by Tide fans when he arrives after a long detour through Florida State.
But perhaps Alabama fans should hold off on raising the bar of expectations too high just yet for Coker. He has spent two seasons on the bench at FSU with zero starts under his belt. The only action he’s gotten has been in garbage time with the game already decided and he didn’t look that sharp in mop-up duty in 2013 (18-of-36, 250 yards, zero touchdowns, one interception). Add in the fact that he won’t be available for spring practice as he finishes his bachelor’s degree at FSU, and he’ll be playing catchup when fall camp opens this summer.
And it’s not like the Alabama depth chart is vacant at quarterback. Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McCleod, and Cooper Bateman have all been in the program and understand what Saban expects from his quarterbacks. They also came out of high school with higher scouting grades than Coker (a former three-star recruit) and all of them will have the benefit of spring practice in Tuscaloosa. That’s a wealth of time and experience that Coker will have to make up for in a very short amount of time. Whoever wins the competition will be expected to take the Tide back to No. 1 in 2014 and do so without missing a beat.
Right now, the overwhelming consensus is that Coker will be the guy to win the job. If he does, he’ll have had to overcome a huge disadvantage in time and experience and win a quarterback competition for the first time in his collegiate career. After that, he’ll get his first meaningful action at the college level for an Alabama team with national title aspirations and a fan base that’s already running short on patience. For a quarterback that has done little more than hold a clipboard the last three seasons, that’s a tall order. Can Coker rise to the challenge?