TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It didn't seem like much of a secret that Alabama wasn't thrilled with its backup quarterback situation. Watching AJ McCarron take the field up three touchdowns late in the game against Notre Dame signified as much. Why even risk the junior quarterback who could lead you to three straight national championships?
But before signing day, it was just a water cooler topic. Then Nick Saban signed two quarterbacks and welcomed another as a walk on. Then, in not so certain terms, he threw down the gauntlet.
"It's critical that some player that we have, either in the organization now or that we just recruited can develop into a potential starter for when AJ graduates," Saban said, opening up the door for a heated competition.
Confidence, it seems, is not something Saban has in the position. Neither redshirt freshman Phillip Ely or sophomore Blake Sims have the look of the quarterback of the future. After watching both practice for two years, Saban would know by now if they were capable of taking the reins.
Saban and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier have seen some of freshman Alec Morris, who redshirted his first season on campus. The strong-armed quarterback from Texas has had a year to learn the playbook, but that will get him only so far with the recruits coming in behind him.
Alabama signed the No. 3-ranked passer in the country in Utah product Cooper Bateman. He was joined by four-star quarterback Parker McLeod in the 25-man signing class that didn't count walk on Luke Del Rio, who turned down scholarships from other FBS schools to come to Alabama. All three prospects enrolled early to get a head start on the process.
Saban, for his part, isn't worried there won't be enough footballs to go around for the seven quarterbacks on the roster.
"We thought that we wanted to recruit two quarterbacks," Saban said. "Luke was a welcome addition because we had recruited him, so we don't think we have too many guys there."
And then Saban took a direct shot at the quarterbacks already on campus.
"The way opportunities go, is it doesn't happen by seniority," he said. "You probably look at it like, 'Well, this guy's been here the longest, so he gets the best chance.' If he's been here the longest, he's already had the most chances. If he hasn't taken advantage of those opportunities, then somebody else has a turn at getting those chances."
If Bateman, McLeod and Del Rio were listening outside of the conference room where Saban was speaking, their ears ought to have perked up. With McCarron only a year away from playing on Sundays, the time for every quarterback, young or old, is now.
McCleod said he was ready for competition when he committed to Alabama in June of last year. The staff told him they were looking to sign multiple quarterbacks after backup quarterback Phillip Sims transferred to Virginia in search of more playing time.
"I knew it was going to be like this. I knew there was going to be competition in the class coming in. ... I feel confident in my abilities. I'm obviously a competitor. I'm not averse to competition. I'm going to work my hardest.
"... There's going to be competition wherever you go. You kind of embrace it."
Bateman, who is rooming with McLeod on campus, felt the same way. It's unclear what Morris, Sims and Ely's thoughts are on the battle that is about to unfold, but the freshmen are embracing the challenge.
"When you come into a program like this, especially a top-tier program like Alabama, there's going to be competition beforehand when you even get here," Bateman said. "Coming in with two other quarterbacks, honestly, doesn't change anything in my mind."