Alabama football is back, as is Nick Saban’s search for consistency

The 2014 football season has officially begun for Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide.

John David Mercer/John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

It’s been about two-and-a-half months since Alabama lost to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, and that can finally be flushed in Tuscaloosa as the Crimson Tide opened spring practice over the weekend.

Finally, Tide fans, there are other things to talk about.

Like the quarterback battle to replace AJ McCarron.

And who will be catching footballs from the QB champ.

And how a freshman offensive tackle looks for the first time.

And who switched jersey numbers this offseason.

Exciting stuff.

Alabama’s second of 15 spring practices is Monday, so maybe we can wait a few days before debating who will play the Crimson Tide for the national championship next January. For now, here are a few notes out of the first couple days of Bama’s spring camp.

Alabama receivers will have fun with Lane Kiffin

There’s a joke, or 100, to be made for the cynics among us about new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin beginning spring practice by showing film of his offense at USC — as if that will inspire – but we’re going to pass, because it wouldn’t really be fair. Kiffin’s been showing the SC film to his new receivers, a position at which Kiffin did have a lot of success at USC (namely with Marqise Lee), to help them become familiar with similar concepts they’ll be implementing in Tuscaloosa.

Spring Ball 2014

“We know what those guys did for him at USC at the wide receiver position,” junior WR Amari Cooper told reporters. Cooper also called Kiffin “player friendly” and noted how he’s able to simplify assignments for players.

With the increased tempo Kiffin is expected to bring to the Tide, the ball is going to move  and it wouldn’t be surprising if Cooper put up Lee-like numbers – meaning, 100-plus catches, 1,200-plus yards and a handful of touchdowns.

Speaking of receivers, who besides Cooper should we know?

Kevin Norwood is gone, and his 568 yards and seven TDs have to be replaced. Also gone is Kenny Bell, who wasn’t a huge production guy (14 catches in 2013) but added an element of speed to Alabama’s attack.

Luckily, there are plenty of other options here. Christion Jones is back, and when he isn’t annihilating Virginia Tech in the return game, he can be found as a dependable option in the slot.

DeAndrew White, who had 32 catches for 534 yards last season, returns for his senior season and adds another experienced pass-catcher to the mix. Robert Foster and Chris Black are two guys who haven’t caught on as fast as expected in Tuscaloosa but could be ready for emerging roles.

And, yes, he’s not a receiver per se, but when you have a freak like O.J. Howard at tight end, that’s damn near cheating in the pass game.

What Saban wants at quarterback

To utilize these weapons and break in the new ones, Alabama needs a quarterback who can deliver the ball accurately and on time to keep Kiffin’s tempo moving. What that means in practical terms is Saban will go with the most reliable QB, not necessarily the most talented one.

“Success is defined by consistency in performance,” Saban told reporters. “So who can be the most consistent guy doing his job well at the position? That’s a critical position because that guy distributes the ball to someone on every down, whether he hands it to them, throws it to them. The choices and decisions that they have to make goes a long way in how effective and efficient your offense runs.”

It makes sense that Saban said the evaluation process of the quarterbacks won’t be a quick one, as he’ll be grading consistency over a high volume of practices. This is another reason why some expect transfer Jacob Coker – who won’t arrive until this summer – to win the starting job, because the redshirt junior might be more consistent in operating the offense than redshirt freshmen Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod, true freshman David Cornwell and sophomore Alec Morris.

Cornwell might have the highest upside of the bunch and is probably the quarterback of the future, but consistency will beat talent here.

Scenes from spring practice No. 1

If you need a little fix, here is a video with some sights and sounds from Alabama’s first workout: