- Associated Press - Thursday, April 3, 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Alabama quarterback Blake Sims headed to south Florida for spring break like countless other college students.

Unlike them, he spent four sun-splashed days working on things like footwork and arm position. It was a business trip for Sims, who finally is getting his chance to compete for the Crimson Tide’s starting job after spending one season as a running back and two backing up AJ McCarron.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Sims said. “I’m having fun out there. Everybody’s smiling. Everybody’s having fun. Just trying to do what we’ve got to do to be the best.”

The senior spent about five hours a day last week working with quarterbacks coach Ken Mastole. He’s trying to make the most of his first shot at winning the starting job.

Sims is the only one of Alabama’s five quarterbacks this spring who has thrown a pass in college, though he’s known more for his running ability. Florida State transfer Jake Coker arrives this summer as the presumed front-runner.

Sims has seen limited action in 18 games the past two seasons. More than half of his 244 career passing yards (130) came in a route of Georgia State last season, and he’s also run for 355 yards.

“He can execute an offense at the collegiate level,” Mastole said Thursday in a phone interview. “I mean, there’s no question about it. Is he going to stand up there and be that big, attractive guy that the naked eye of the average fan can watch and say, ‘Wow?’ Like Andrew Luck has a nice release or Aaron Rodgers just looks pretty throwing the football? There’s going to be sometimes where it comes out a little bit sideways.

“For Alabama football, he can definitely play within that offense, it’s just going to be him digesting a new system and then letting him absorb all the information so that when he goes out there he can be that Blake Sims that people remember from high school in Georgia as a sensational player.”

Mastole’s clients include NFL draft prospects Teddy Bridgewater and Tajh Boyd and the Buffalo Bills’ EJ Manuel.

Some of the lessons for Sims were about things like bringing his arm up a little and not leaning back when making throws. Others were more about keeping positive even with Coker arriving in a couple of months.

Sims said he’s not stressing about the competition - or Coker.

“I have talked to him,” he said. “He has a great personality, and I’m ready for him to get here and make ‘Bama even much better as a team and bring his personality and make everybody smile and take him in with open arms.”

He’s also focusing on leadership and absorbing information. He’s eaten meals with teammates, tried to offer encouragement when needed and picked the brains of new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

Sims is also getting more accustomed to taking snaps under center instead of the shotgun as a wildcat-style quarterback. The other four contenders are more dropback passers like McCarron.

“That’s a work in progress for Blake,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said at the start of spring practice. “I thought he made significant progress last year. I think that that’s one thing that we want to evaluate and know that he needs to progress in is his ability to be a more consistent passer, especially in the system that we implement now.”

Mastole thinks the biggest key for Sims is just utilizing the playmakers surrounding him, like wide receiver Amari Cooper.

“Play within coach Kiffin’s system, that’s going to be the key,” he said. “And the beautiful part of it is he can improvise.”



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