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QB battle, off-the-field matters hot topics for Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama opened preseason camp in the wake of several summer arrests and departures and with a quarterback competition still going strong.

Despite all that, the challenges remain pretty typical for the defending national champions and have little or nothing to do with talent. There was no shortage of that when the Crimson Tide opened camp Thursday in the stifling heat of Alabama summers — and Alabama's falls.

Coach Nick Saban still had some off-the-field matters to address when he took the podium since it hasn't entirely been a smooth ride since winning his fourth national title at 'Bama.

The Tide is facing some backlash over a decision to prevent recent graduate defensive back Maurice Smith from transferring to another Southeastern Conference school — in this case Georgia. That's drawn more headlines than the quarterback situation this week.

"We support the SEC rule of not granting guys' releases to go to other SEC schools," Saban said, declining to answer questions on the matter. "It has been our policy here not to do that unless there was a special circumstance."

Two young players — receiver Daylon Charlot and linebacker Christian Bell — have announced plans to transfer in the past couple of weeks, and junior college transfer offensive tackle Charles Baldwin was dismissed in May.

Meanwhile, three summertime suspensions won't necessarily carry over into the season. Defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson said it wasn't a distraction in the offseason either.

"It's easy to deal with because you know what you have to come in here and do day to day, and you can't let the off-the-field situations affect you off the field or on the field," Tomlinson said.

Left tackle Cameron Robinson and reserve defensive back Hootie Jones aren't likely to miss any action when Alabama kicks off against Southern California in Arlington, Texas, barring further issues, Saban said. Both were arrested on drug and weapons charges in Louisiana, but the prosecutor decided not to pursue the cases.

Guard Alphonse Taylor was arrested in July on drunken driving charges and suspended indefinitely, but practiced Thursday. Saban said he's not ready to make a decision on his status for the USC game.

Likewise, he's not going to rush to judgment on the quarterback battle, which carries over into preseason camp for the third straight year. This time it's 2015 backup Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and sophomore David Cornwell vying to replace Jake Coker.

Freshman Jalen Hurts also went through spring practice.

Saban said Cornwell has been bothered by a foot injury all summer and had limited repetitions in Thursday's practice. He was in the mix with Coker and Bateman for a while a year ago.

"All three of the other guys have made significant progress throughout the summer," Saban said. "Somebody has got to win the job, somebody has got to become the leader, the guy that can go out there and execute and win the confidence of his teammates and the players that he plays with on offense. I think we have three guys that are all capable of that.

"I would love it if one of them separated themselves sooner rather than later, but I don't think this is something that you can force to happen. Because if you try to do that, you put a guy in there and it doesn't work, you've got to make changes. So you create more controversy sometimes doing than just trying to let it happen."