Tide looking for a backup quarterback

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- While the news of Phillip Sims' departure from the University of Alabama football program two weeks ago wasn’t exactly earth shattering with whispers of his transferring for some time, it did leave the cupboard somewhat bare at quarterback for the Crimson Tide.

Sims, who competed with AJ McCarron throughout the fall for the starting spot and later succumbed to a backup role, saw action in eight games in 2011 and provided a firm safety net if McCarron ever were to go down. The 6-foot-2, 211-pound righty had all the tools coaches look for in a quarterback -- tall and sturdy in stature with a strong throwing arm -- coming out of high school in Chesapeake, Va., ranked as the No. 1 quarterback in the ESPN 150.

“Phillip Sims did a wonderful job for us,” UA coach Nick Saban said at a speaking engagement in Birmingham on Tuesday afternoon. “He’s a fine young man. He did a great job in our program. We hate to see him go, but at the same time I understand there’s a lot of personal things, illnesses in his family. ... We’re going to be very supportive of him in his future and hope he does extremely well.”

With Sims gone, that leaves two viable options to carry the clipboard for McCarron. One is already on campus and the other is readying to leave home. Redshirt freshman Phillip Ely would be No. 2 on the depth chart if the season began today, but true freshman Alec Morris will have his chance to impress coaches when he starts practicing with the team this fall. Both have had big time high school experience, coming from mega programs like Plant High in Florida and Allen High in Texas, but have yet to be schooled on playing in the SEC.

“There’s no question about the fact that we don’t have a backup quarterback right now that has any significant experience,” Saban lamented. “We need for some young players to really develop and grow, and maybe get an opportunity to play early on.”

On Tuesday, Saban threw out another name to be considered under center: Blake Sims. The high school dual-threat quarterback who has played primarily at running back since getting to the Capstone in 2010, might find himself asked to learn a little more of the offense over the summer.

“Last year we actually had a plan for Blake Sims to play quarterback, who played quarterback in high school and is a different style of quarterback then what we have,” Saban explained. “But we also have the flexibility on offense maybe to utilize him at that position as well.”

While Blake Sims may step in to the role of backup quarterback, coaches may want a more traditional passer to take the reins and allow for him to continue his progress at running back. Ely competed nicely in the A-Day scrimmage last month, connecting on 10 of 18 passes for 83 yards and no touchdowns. Morris has shown the ability to carry the load at quarterback as well, throwing for more than 3,200 yards and 35 touchdowns his senior year.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound quarterback from Texas won’t have the leg up that many other players have enjoyed, though, as he opted to finish high school on a regular schedule rather than enroll early. When Phillip Sims was still at UA that didn’t look to be an issue, but after his departure it leaves the question, “What if he were here four months ago?” It certainly would have allowed for him to be more familiar with the playbook and what coaches expect.

For his part, Saban shrugged off the notion of enrolling early being a necessity.

“To me, we don’t ever encourage guys to enroll early,” Saban said. “To me, that’s their choice. You only have one senior year in high school and I’m not always sure that that’s the best thing for guys to give that up, but if they want to do it and get started on their college career and come in early and get ahead academically as well as football-wise, I think that’s fine.”

Saban said he’s confident Morris will be ready when he gets to campus this summer. Morris told TideNation two weeks ago that he’s spoken with offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and continues to work on his technique every week.

“He didn’t get there but he’ll be there this summer,” Saban said. “I think he’ll do fine. AJ didn’t come in early and by the middle of the season he was a very, very good backup quarterback when he was a freshman. So, I think Alec has a lot of positive qualities and a very bright guy, and I think he’ll develop nicely for us.”