TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Jake Coker’s performance as the starting quarterback for the Alabama Crimson Tide this season has led to many questions. There have been questions about his decision-making, questions about his accuracy and most of all, questions of whether or not he can lead Alabama back to the National Championship. But there is one thing about Coker that nobody has questioned: his toughness.
He has been far from perfect as a starter and has completely scrapped the “game-manager” mold that we’ve come to expect from a signal-caller at Alabama. His play has often been sporadic, staring down receivers for too long at times and trying to force balls into a non-existent windows in double coverage.
But for every ill-advised play Alabama’s quarterback makes, he comes right back with an equally gutsy one. Most of those gutsy plays have come in the form of Coker’s scrambling, an element to his game that wasn’t revealed until the second half of the loss to the Ole Miss Rebels. Unlike most quarterbacks who look to slide or duck out of bounds at the end of the run, Coker goes looking for contact, burying his shoulder into defenders to fight for extra yardage.
Taking hit after hit doesn’t sound like the smartest strategy to keep a quarterback healthy through the season, but it’s helped Coker put his heart on display and win the respect of his teammates.
“We love it,” linebacker Reggie Ragland said, per 247 Sports’ Charlie Potter. “Anytime he takes off out there, he takes the hits and gets back up. We call him a baby Roethlisberger. Anytime he does that, like, that gets guys on the team (hyped up) ’cause we’ll be backed up, probably like third and 10, he takes off and then gets the first down. The guys on the sideline see that and its gets us all hyped up more and more, and the guys in the locker room love it since he started making plays like that. It helps us out.”
When Jake Coker was competing with Alec Morris, David Cornwell and Cooper Bateman for the chance to start under-center for the Crimson Tide, Nick Saban consistently pointed out the need to have one guy win over the team. The ability to get the locker room behind him was one of the reasons that Blake Sims was able to take the starting job from Coker before the start of the 2014 season. It now seems that Coker learned a thing or two from his predecessor.
Quarterback is the most celebrated and most protected position in all of sports. There’s no better way for a quarterback to gain acceptance from his team than to sell out and put his body on the line to make a play for his teammates. Despite some of his mistakes in the passing game, Coker has done that time and time again for Alabama in 2015.
Even Saban has taken a liking to Coker’s decisions in the running game.
“What, do you want him to run out of bounds? Well, I’m just telling you, sometimes I wish he wouldn’t take the hits, aight,” Saban said, per Potter. “But I kind of like the other team’s reaction when he does that… I kind of like it when he runs over them.”
But Coker’s toughness hasn’t just showed up when he’s scrambled. He’s also taken some shots in the pocket this year from SEC defenders like Robert Nkemdiche and Myles Garrett.
Even then, Coker gets right back up and jogs right back to the huddle, ready to lead the team he can now call his.