The quarterback position at Alabama under coach Nick Saban has become associated with the term game manager.
Crimson Tide QBs are known for execution, minimizing mistakes and playing “within the offense.” The prototype efficiently handles his business and avoids risky plays while the defense and running game receive credit for wearing down the opposition.
One can debate the extent to which this reputation squares with reality, as well as the growing body of evidence suggesting it does not apply to incumbent Blake Sims. But the perception of Saban-era Alabama as a breeding ground of conservative quarterback play is unmistakable.
Depending on the talent around him, among other things, Blake Barnett could become the next in a procession of Tide game managers, but he looks more than capable of breaking the mold.
Barnett, who committed to Alabama in June and plans to enroll early after signing his financial aid agreement with the Tide in October, is the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and No. 37 player in the class of 2015, according Rivals.com. No Alabama quarterback who has recorded at least one complete pass during Saban’s tenure has been rated higher by the recruiting service.
While it’s possible Barnett could be leading Alabama’s offense within the next couple of years, it wasn’t so long ago that he wasn’t even considered one of the top quarterbacks of his age group.
As a sophomore at Corona Santiago (Calif.) High, Barnett mostly served as a backup. He began drawing national attention when, in the opening game of his junior season, Barnett accounted for 381 yards and six touchdowns against Newhall Hart (Calif.) High, which is quarterbacked by four-star Arizona State commit Brady White.
“That was the really changing factor in my recruiting process,” Barnett said of the game against Hart.
He received his first scholarship offer from UCLA and later committed to Notre Dame. Barnett decided to renounce his pledge this summer because he wanted to check out other schools, he said. Though there was initial speculation he was leaning towards Oregon, Barnett wound up picking Alabama in June.
What does Barnett offer the Tide that previous quarterbacks have not? At 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, he brings a rare blend of passing proficiency and mobility. For a team that -- with the exception of Sims -- has largely subsisted on pocket-tethered, pro-style types under Saban, Barnett could bring a new dimension to the offense.
“With the quarterbacks that Alabama has had over the last 5-10 years, since Nick Saban has been in Tuscaloosa, you look back, you went from John Parker Wilson to Greg McElroy to A.J. McCarron -- those guys [are] more of your pocket passers, your pro-style quarterbacks,“ said Andrew Bone, a recruiting reporter for TideSports.com. “And Blake Barnett is a pro-style quarterback. But the biggest difference between him and those guys is he can run, sort of like what Blake Sims is able to do right now down in Tuscaloosa.”
From Barnett’s point of view, he does not profile as a dual-threat quarterback but rather a “pocket passer with the ability to extend the play.” This description seems apt considering Barnett was named the Most Valuable Player of the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback challenge this summer and he can also pull off ridiculous plays like this.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in Barnett’s game is his throwing motion. A former pitcher, Barnett says he thinks his baseball throwing mechanics may have affected how he releases a football. Dennis Gile, Barnett’s personal quarterback coach, said the motion has become cleaner and more compact over time.
“It’s a lot smoother,” Gile said of Barnett’s release. “It’s not as stiff as it was when he first came to me. He understands why we do what we do, and I really preach upper body being really smooth and relaxed while your lower body does all the work, as far as strength and power. And so he’s gotten that down.”
Barnett is one of several heralded quarterbacks from California in the class of 2015. Of the top nine signal callers in the class, five (UCLA commit Josh Rosen, Barnett, USC commit Ricky Town, Oregon commit Travis Waller and White) are based in the Golden State. Gorney acknowledges Rosen is the best of the group but said Barnett has distinguished himself with his ability to threaten defenses both through the air and on the ground.
“In terms of a guy who can do both -- a guy that can drop back and pass and a guy that can get out and make things happen with his feet, which is really Barnett’s biggest strength -- he’s got that mobility, where he can just turn upfield and go,” Gorney said, adding that he thinks Barnett has the “intelligence” and “moxie” to compete for playing time early in his college career.
Alabama’s offense already dominates most opponents on the strength of its running game and physicality. Barnett could give the Tide’s opponents yet another aspect to worry about.
Around the nation
- Miramar (Fla.) High’s season is over. Principal Mario Formoso announced, as self-imposed discipline for trafficking in impermissible benefits, the school was done playing in 2014, according to a report from the Sun Sentinel.
Formoso wrote in a letter to the Florida High School Athletic Association that Miramar violated the governing body’s rules. A judge reportedly rejected interim coach A.J. Scott’s request for an injunction against the Broward County School Board, an attempt to overturn the penalty.
The gifts Strout claimed he gave over an eight-month period after he was named coach included, among other things, sports gear, airfare to summer camps, presents for players' girlfriends, cash incentives for grades and tickets to University of South Florida football games for two teachers.
Strout reportedly also said star wide receiver Jovon Durante was among multiple players on the team that were academically ineligible. Durante and four other Miramar seniors -- including four-star cornerback Tyrek Cole, who was removed from the Under Armour All-American game roster after a misdemeanor charge was reportedly filed against him on Monday -- are committed to West Virginia.
Strout became Miramar’s head coach after Damon Cogdell left the school to join the Mountaineers staff. According to the Sun Sentinel, Strout considers Cogdell and former Miramar principal Brian Faso “central figures” in the corruption within the program.
Miramar players and others gathered in protest of the decision to cancel the rest of the season and abandon the school’s place in the state playoffs. Miramar will be able to play next season, but the school is reportedly still under investigation by Broward Schools and the FHSAA.
- De La Salle Collegiate (Mich.) High coach Paul Verska said after a Dec. 7 win over East English Village Prep that all his team needed was for “the pumpkins to win, and life will be even better.” Verska was referring to the orange helmets of rival Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, whose win over Birmingham Groves High the next day set up a matchup with De La Salle last Saturday.
A few days before that game took place, Brother Rice receiver and three-star prospect Grant Perry posted the following picture to his Twitter account:
According to MLive.com, the pumpkin, carved a De La Salle logo, was left on the field waiting for the Brother Rice players.
De La Salle wound up beating Brother Rice, 26-21. The loss snapped Brother Rice’s 33-game winning streak as well as its bid at a fourth consecutive state championship. It also represented revenge for De La Salle, who fell 28-21 to Brother Rice in September. These events would have been even better had they unfolded the week before Halloween, but we'll take what we can get.
How coach Will Muschamp’s firing will impact Florida’s recruiting remains to be seen. The Gators’ 2015 class currently counts nine members, including four-star offensive lineman George Brown and four-star quarterback Sheriron Jones, according to Rivals.com. The three top-ranked uncommitted prospects from the state of Florida commented on Muschamp’s dismissal in a recent Rivals article. Southeast Recruiting Analyst Woody Wommack writes that defensive ends Byron Cowart and CeCe Jefferson and offensive lineman Martez Ivey were all considered “strong Florida leans” at one point in their respective recruitments.
"It's sad. It's kind of crazy but I have to understand is a business," said Cowart, who also said the move won't affect his interest in the school going forward. "He's a great man more than a coach, a great father and person, and I hate to see this happen to him and I still love the guy."
Five-star Jefferson echoed Cowart's comments: "Coach Muschamp is my dude but unfortunately it's a business," he said. "I'm shocked though, I for sure thought he would be here next season." […]
"It doesn't really matter to me. That's what they get paid for, to win games," Ivey said. "You can't really commit to a school off of a coach. So they are still in it and I want to see who they bring in."
- The only obvious difference between a particular senior prospect who committed to Alabama in April and a junior who recently received a scholarship offer from the Crimson Tide is one consonant. Earlier this month, Cavin Ridley, a wide receiver who attends Monarch (Fla.) High, was reportedly extended an offer from the SEC power. Cavin is the younger brother of Calvin Ridley, the No. 1 receiver and No. 6 overall player in the class of 2015 who was named the Most Valuable Player at The Opening. The younger Ridley’s other offers include Tennessee and West Virginia, according to Florida Fire 7-on-7 coach Dennis Marroquin. The Tide can only hope Cavin is as skilled as his older brother.
- Three-star linebacker and North Carolina commit Andre Smith visited Wisconsin this weekend for the Badgers’ game against Nebraska. Madison is a long way away from Trinity Christian (Fla.) Academy.
- Westlake (Calif.) High junior Malik Henry committed to Florida State. Henry is the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2016.
- C.D. Hylton (Va.) High senior Matthew Burrell Jr. committed to Ohio State. Burrell is the No. 9 offensive guard in the class of 2015.
- Briar Woods (Va.) High junior Mark Birmingham committed to Duke. Birmingham is the No. 6 tight end in the class of 2016.
- Griffin (Ga.) High senior Christian Owens decommitted from Georgia and appears set to enroll at South Carolina. Owens is the No. 11 tight end in the class of 2015.
- Lake Gibson (Fla.) High senior Reuben Jones committed to Nebraska. Jones is the No. 27 strongside defensive end in the class of 2015.
- Washington commit Jake Browning completed 32 of his 46 pass attempts for 439 yards and eight touchdowns in the first half of Folsom (Calif.) High’s 70-14 win over Stagg High. Max Preps notes that Browning matched the national record for touchdown passes in a half.
- Kinnelon (N.J.) High’s Kyle Presti set a state record with nine touchdown passes in a 68-42 win over Sussex County Tech (the previous record was eight). Presti finished with 501 yards on 22-of-31 passing.
- Sheldon (Ore.) High’s Kellen Strahm completed 22 of his 29 pass attempts for 258 yards and four touchdowns while adding 67 yards and four scores on the ground in a 56-34 win over Oregon City High.
- Frisco Heritage (Texas) High’s Kene Nwangwu rushed for 380 yards and seven touchdowns on 22 carries in a 77-63 win over Wylie East High.