Over the past half-decade, the Alabama Crimson Tide have risen to elite status in college football under Nick Saban. The Tide have been at the top before, but this run is bringing back memories of the "Bear" Bryant years.
One of the constants for Saban’s teams has been quality quarterback play. Over the past year, the Tide have developed more than just a game manager in current leader A.J. McCarron, and they may have a Heisman hopeful on their hands for 2013.
For him to take his game to the Heisman level, he has to get better as a passer in the red zone.
Last season McCarron finished the year 211-of-314 for 2,933 yards and 30 touchdowns. He only threw three interceptions.
A 10-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio is ridiculous in the SEC, but McCarron showed it is possible with a strong supporting cast of talent.
McCarron will stay at the top of his game during his senior campaign, but if he wants to challenge for trophies he has to adjust how he plays in the short field.
Looking at film throughout the year, McCarron is solid at moving through his progressions and reading defenses until he hits the red zone. His completion percentage falls from 68 percent inside the 39-20 to a 56.8 inside the 20 (via ESPN). He takes what is given to him, and rarely forces the football into spaces that his players can't make the play.
Of his three interceptions last year, only one was thrown in the open field. That pick came off a dislodged football.
This is a look at that play.
You see Texas A&M open with two deep safeties (out of the screen) and Alabama in the shotgun.
In the second screen one safety (marked by a yellow arrow) has crashed down to meet the receiver in the seam, and the linebacker (circled in blue) in zone is breaking on the play.
As the play is completed the safety dislodges the football with his hit and the linebacker takes the tipped ball for a pick.
There was nothing that McCarron could have done to stop this play except not throw the football to the open man.
This was a good read despite it ending in with an interception.
This is a look at two interceptions by McCarron that were bad plays and how they can be fixed this offseason.
Receiver Must be a Looker
In the first screenshot you notice that Alabama is lined up in a shotgun formation from the two yard line. The Tide did this often last year from inside the 10, and they ran more than they passed from it.
Alabama is in a shotgun tight that pushes a man in motion (marked by a red circle) to the wide side of the field pre-snap.
In the second screenshot you see McCarron taking his first step and already eyeing his future target.
The final screen is the Texas A&M defender making the play in front of the receiver before the Alabama player had made it out of his break and turned for the football.
This was a rookie mistake for a veteran quarterback that was repeated at least one more time last fall.
Take a look at this play from the SEC Championship Game against Georgia.
Alabama is lined up on the five-yard line in the shotgun.
The play begins to unfold in the second screenshot you notice McCarron’s helmet (marked by yellow arrow) turn to his future target (circled in black).
Before his first step in the drop plants he is eyeing his receiver.
This is an easy pick.
The final screenshot shows the Georgia defender (marked by a yellow arrow) already making the play before the Alabama receiver (marked by a blue arrow) can make it out of his route and into his cut.
This was a terrible play by McCarron that mimics the errors he showed against Texas A&M a few weeks prior.
Spring will be a great time for the Tide to work this issue to death for McCarron. He needs to learn that urgency ins't always needed in the red zone, and that he can play his style of football no matter how close his team is to the end zone.
Looking back at these plays the mistakes are easy to fix. McCarron is a quality quarterback and proven winner that can make adjustments to overcome these types of mental mistakes this fall.
If he fixes this problem the Crimson Tide red zone offense just became the most potent in the country.