Senior QB AJ McCarron has a chance to break several school records and win a third consecutive national title in his final season at the Capstone.
In a state where the thirst for college football is a year-round topic of discussion, Alabama fans are patiently awaiting the beginning of spring practice, which is less than a month away.
To get Crimson Tide supporters primed for spring ball, I will begin a series that breaks down every position on the Tide’s roster leading up to the time when the pads come back on in March.
First up is quarterback—a position that Nick Saban will put in the trusted hands of rising senior AJ McCarron for the third consecutive season.
But with three incoming freshmen and a trio of players with at least a year of experience at the college level behind McCarron, one of the main spring storylines will surround the race to see which signal-caller wins the backup spot.
That player likely gets a leg up on the quest to eventually succeed one of Alabama’s all-time great field generals next season.
Which newcomer will make the biggest splash, and how strong is the quarterback segment entering the spring?
Find out the answers to these questions and more in this spring practice primer for the Tide’s group of quarterbacks.
Starter – AJ McCarron, Senior
McCarron has a 25-2 record in his two seasons as a starter—with two crystal footballs already on his resume as he enters his final season at the Capstone.
After a stellar junior season that saw him shatter the Tide’s single-season record for most touchdown passes (30), McCarron has a chance to become the most prolific passer in school history.
He needs 1,969 yards this fall to surpass John Parker Wilson’s career passing yardage mark of 7,924 and become the Tide’s record-holder in that category.
McCarron thrived under first-year offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier a year ago, and that comfort level should only expand considering the Tide has two of the nation’s top skill players heading the running back and receiver units.
McCarron has seen and experienced nearly everything possible on the college level, but with a third potential national title in his sights, the Mobile-native has a chance to close his career as one of the most decorated field generals in college football history.
As for the spring, the main focus for McCarron is staying healthy and getting comfortable with three new starters on the offensive line.
Biggest Position Battle – Backup QB Job (Blake Sims vs. five others)
While McCarron’s spot is set in stone, there will be as many as six players vying for the right to win the backup job.
Junior Blake Sims and sophomore Phillip Ely each gained experience in mop-up duties in 2012, but neither has done enough to cement his place as the front-runner to earn the backup spot for 2013.
However, according to Josh Newberg of 247 Sports, Ely is considering transferring from Alabama.
Should Ely depart, redshirt freshman Alec Morris plus incoming freshmen Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod and Luke Del Rio would jump into the mix with Sims in the competition to crack the two-deep depth chart.
All three newcomers enrolled in school last month and will take part in spring drills.
Sims—who rushed for 187 yards and a pair scores a year ago—added a different dimension to the offense with his ability to make plays with his legs.
Sims’ experience likely gives him the edge entering the spring, but Ely—presuming he sticks around for the spring—and the four freshmen will make this a lively derby that will likely carry over into the fall.
Impact Newcomer – Cooper Bateman
All three incoming freshmen arrive at the Capstone with sterling prep credentials.
Bateman—an Under Armour All-American—is the Tide’s highest-rated quarterback commitment since McCarron arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2009.
McLeod—the prep teammate of running back signee Tyren Jones at Walton High School (Marietta, Ga.)—led his team to the Georgia Class AAAAA state title game as a junior and threw for 18 touchdowns in 2011.
Del Rio—the son of former Jaguars head coach and current Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio—turned down several offers from BCS-level schools to walk on at the Capstone.
While all three will be given an equal chance to compete, Bateman—who was the first of the three to commit—appears to possess the physical and mental elements that have been present in the quarterbacks that have found success under Saban (h/t, Barton Simmons, 247 Sports, via Matt Scalici, al.com).
Strength of QB Position Entering Spring: A
The quarterback position is healthy with a nice mix of veterans and newcomers, which is a stark departure from the thin depth chart at this point last season.
Last season, McCarron entered the spring as one of only three quarterbacks on the roster.
Everything is in place for McCarron to have a monster final campaign, but the Tide should also be in a favorable position to groom his successor this spring and in mop-up time this fall.
Considering McCarron is familiar with the nuances of the offense, the spring will be about developing the stable of passers behind him in preparation for 2014 and beyond.