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Former Alabama QB Jake Coker in a 'great spot' with Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. -- If Jake Coker felt like the football world was against him after going undrafted two weeks ago, all he needed to do was look at another former University of Alabama quarterback who was signed by the Arizona Cardinals last year to see that everything can work out just fine.

Phillip Sims was invited by the Arizona Cardinals as a tryout player for last year’s rookie minicamp and impressed coaches enough to earn a contract. He then exceeded expectations during organized team activities, minicamp and the preseason to be considered among the last three guys cut, coach Bruce Arians said.

But Coker, who led the Crimson Tide to a national title last year with a career-high 335 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-40 win over Clemson, is already in a better position than Sims was. He was part of Arizona’s 16-man undrafted free-agent class, showing that Coker was a priority for the Cards in the event he wasn’t drafted.

“All I can say is Phillip Sims was in a worse spot than he was last year,” Arians said. “He’s in a great spot. He’s got to battle one guy.”

That “one guy” is third-string quarterback Matt Barkley, who Arizona traded for the day before cutting Sims last year. Coker’s first step to unseating Barkley on the roster was last weekend’s rookie minicamp. It was his first competitive football activity since the national championship and Coker looked rusty. Some of his passes fluttered in the light Arizona breeze while some were simply off target.

“I thought he was fine,” Arians said. “Nerves get to a lot of these guys. Not being in sync footwork-wise with receivers, routes, that part, [the] interceptions didn’t bother me. He was going to the right spots on the field, and he’s a big, strong kid who seems to be pretty bright.”

Being bright is what carried Sims to the final weekend of cuts. Coker has the opportunity to do the same.

His experience playing in Alabama’s pro-style offense will help Coker transition to the Cardinals’ offense quicker than if he had run a spread offense in college. Arians specifically noted Coker’s experience with “traditional” offenses, while pointing out that Coker has run bootlegs with his back to the defense.

“The spread guys, it’s harder for them to learn that footwork and play with their backs to the defense and turn around and find receivers for the first time because they never do it,” Arians said.

Arians understands what it takes to be a quarterback at Alabama. He was the Crimson Tide’s running backs coach in 1981 and 1982 under Bear Bryant and returned to Alabama as offensive coordinator for one season in 1997, when he coached Freddie Kitchens, who was Alabama’s quarterback that season and now coaches the same position for the Cardinals.

Coker called Arians “awesome.”

“He’s what I think of a head coach,” Coker said. “That’s who it is. He’s got that mentality, that personality, that I think is one of a kind. That’s how you've got to be, I think.”

With the opportunity to fight for a roster spot ahead of him, Coker didn’t spend much time thinking about why he didn’t get drafted, although he figured it was for one specific reason. He felt his path to Alabama -- which started at Florida State, where he was Jameis Winston’s backup -- allowed him to start just one season, was a factor.

“I think that probably had the most to do with it,” Coker said. “It is what it is. I couldn’t tell you. If I did, I would’ve fixed it a long time go.”