If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em? Blake Barnett Commitment to Alabama Suggests Change

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The commitment of 4-star, dual-threat quarterback Blake Barnett to Alabama suggests a philosophical shift is on the horizon for the Crimson Tide.

When Barnett de-committed from Notre Dame shortly after a visit to Oregon earlier this month, consensus among recruiting pundits was that the Corona (California) Santiago prospect was going to become a Duck. Just days before Barnett tweeted of his commitment to the Crimson Tide, 100 percent of crystal ball projections on 247Sports.com had the quarterback bound for Oregon.

Alabama and Oregon pursuing the quarterback might have seemed illogical, if not impossible previously. Fans around the country have clamored for a matchup between the two teams simply because their styles are such polar opposites.

But the arrival of Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator was sure to shake things up. Landing one of the nation’s top dual-threat playmakers is a considerable tremor.

Teams that beat Alabama in the last two seasons share a common trait. Johnny Manziel, Nick Marshall, Trevor Knight: all three are dynamic, dual-threats. All three thrived in uptempo systems that emphasized improvisation above rigid structure–a hallmark of Alabama offenses under Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier.

Is the addition of Barnett to the 2015 signing class the embodiment of the idea, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?

Blake Barnett resembles Manziel, Marshall or Knight more than he does Greg McElroy or A.J. McCarron. Barnett compared himself to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

His style is more jazz, when the Tide have favored classical.

Introducing such a style runs contradictory not just to how the Tide played in the past, but also what Nick Saban has deemed safe. Saban is not necessarily the most vocal, but certainly the most recognizable opponent of hurry-up, no-huddle offenses. His suggestion that the sped-up style prompted injury may have been nothing more than pure gamesmanship.

Kiffin is no spread or hurry-up maven himself. His USC program was one of the last vestiges of the traditional offense in the Pac-12. However, changing things up might be what he needs, given it was his offensive play-calling that Trojans fans lamented above all else in his three-seasons-and-change as head coach.

Kiffin often dialed up plays while doubling as offensive coordinator that resembled a Madden gamer trying to out-think his opponent. Turning more of the decision-making over to be rendered at the line might eliminate the temptation to throw screen passes to cold fullbacks on fourth-and-short.

It’s also entirely possible Saban and Kiffin have another plan for Barnett. He’s demonstrated outstanding pocket presence and a powerful arm both in prep competition and camps. Barnett also has the size of a prototypical pro-style quarterback.

Perhaps the plan is to cultivate Alabama’s version of Andrew Luck–a quarterback with all the skills of the traditional pocket-passer, combined with a dangerous rushing ability unleashed only when needed.

But even that is a deviation from the kind of quarterback that has passed through Tuscaloosa in Saban’s tenure. From John Parker Wilson, to McElroy, to McCarron, Crimson Tide signal callers have two primary functions: pass or get the ball to one of the bevy of all-world running backs.

Admittedly, that’s an oversimplification, but it’s a much closer representation of how the position has operated at Alabama than any adjective describing Blake Barnett.

There’s also the distinct possibility Barnett’s commitment signifies no philosophical change of any kind. After all, he won’t arrive until 2015, at which time he’ll promptly be a year behind highly touted 2014 recruit David Cornwell–a big-bodied, pro-style quarterback.

Nevertheless, Barnett’s presence at least hints at the possibility of Alabama making a shift further indicative of the changing climate throughout football.