And then there were two.
Alabama’s quarterback competition has been narrowed down to redshirt junior Cooper Bateman and redshirt freshman Blake Barnett, head coach Nick Saban announced during his news conference Monday.
“Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett are probably the two guys that we’re getting ready to play in this game, and that’s the way it’s going to be for right now,” Saban said. “We’re going to try to continue to try to develop all of our guys. We make this choice, we make this decision with 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 the most ready to give us the best chance. We also want to continue to develop guys that can compete at this position in the future. That’s kind of where it is right now.”
Previously, true freshman Jalen Hurts had been in the discussion for the starting job. Despite performing well this offseason, Hurts lacked the experience of the other two contenders. While Saban excluded the true freshman from the competition for now, the head coach left the door open for Hurts to make a contribution later in the season.
“Jalen’s got a tremendous future,” Saban said. “I think he’s got great ability. But 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’s 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 we 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 on the field, they can have success.
“Jalen Hurts has tremendous ability. We are not giving up on that ability and hopefully we’ll be able to develop it that at some point this season he’s going to be a productive player for us.”
Bateman is the only quarterback on the roster to take a college snap and even earned a Week 3 start against Ole Miss last season. When addressing Bateman, Saban talked about the junior’s knowledge of offense and ability manage the offense well.
Saban praised Barnett’s knowledge of the offense as well and credited the redshirt freshman with an increased confidence in his second year with the program. Saban also mentioned Barnett’s added weight — he’s up to 6-foot-5, 211 pounds after coming into the program at 198 pounds — and ability to throw the ball effectively as a reason for the decision.
“One of the strengths on our team, I feel, are the receivers,” Saban said. “We want to continue to try to have an offense that can create explosive plays through those guys.”
While Saban announced both quarterbacks will start, he did not give any indication to which one will get the first snap during the season opener against Southern California on Saturday.
Last season, Alabama started its opener with Jake Coker, before subbing in Bateman in the second half. Players said Monday, they weren’t notified of the starter until later in the week last year. Despite not knowing who will start Saturday, players don’t seem concerned with the situation.
“Both guys bring a lot to the table for us and they can really help our team,” said senior tight end O.J. Howard. “They’re both really smart with the ball when they’re in the game, they both know how to check at the line of scrimmage when something’s not as planned. I think both guys can really help us in a tremendous way.”
Howard said both quarterbacks offer similar traits and feels confident both can operate every aspect of the offense. Sophomore cornerback Marlon Humphrey said it’s even hard to pick out the two during practice.
“To be honest, half the time, I don’t even know who’s throwing the ball,” Marlon Humphrey said. “I’m just trying to guard my man. Sometimes, somebody be like, ‘Who’s that?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t even know to be honest.’ They rotate them out so much, it’s hard to even tell who’s in.”
This will be the third season, Alabama enters its opener with two quarterbacks. While stating there is “no perfect way” to break in a starting quarterback, Saban said it is hard to know how a quarterback will perform in a game until he sees him in action.
Saturday, both quarterbacks will get that opportunity.
“I think it’s one thing to be in practice and see what they can do, but it’s another to see how they react in a game-like situation,” said sophomore offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher. “It’ll be interesting to see how these guys compete, and I’m looking forward to it.”