Breaking Down How Alabama QB AJ McCarron's Game Has Evolved

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Breaking Down How Alabama QB AJ McCarron's Game Has Evolved

While Johnny Manziel was tearing up the scene last season with his highlight-reel runs and video game statistics, another SEC quarterback was quietly going about his business leading a dynasty.

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron didn't make the trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist, didn't light up the stat sheet on a consistent basis and hasn't become the celebrity that Manziel has evolved into.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Alabama QB AJ McCarron

All he did was win. DJ Kahled would be proud.

McCarron has the arm to sling the ball all over the field, but to his credit, he's scaled back that gun-slinger mentality in favor of the more conservative approach that Alabama has consistently used to wear down opponents. 

The results are staggering.

As a junior, McCarron threw for 2,933 yards, 30 touchdowns and only three interceptions, making him the most efficient passer in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) with a 175.28 passer rating.

AJ McCarron Passer Rating By Season

But his success at this level wasn't always a forgone conclusion. 

He came to Alabama in 2009 as a 4-star pro-style prospect  (via 247Sports.com) on the heels of a solid high school career at St. Paul's Episcopal School in Mobile, Ala.

During his freshman season, McCarron completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 389 yards, three touchdowns and zero picks playing a backup role to then-starter Greg McElroy.

Not bad for a backup, but those statistics are a bit deceiving.

Head coach Nick Saban erupted on McCarron when he came in for mop-up duty with the Tide up 30-3 against Mississippi State in the fourth quarter in 2010, which resulted in a now infamous spank of the then-redshirt freshman quarterback.

Nick Saban spanks AJ McCarron

Saban was upset that McCarron didn't take what the defense was giving him and forced a pass to Julio Jones, according to ESPN.com

Saban being Saban, no doubt. His process is all about fighting to achieve perfection. To McCarron's credit, he has recognized that challenge and has been doing his best to live up to those expectations.

For the most part, the "game-manager" label was attached to McCarron during the 2011 season. His 2,400 yards, 16 touchdowns and five picks were nice, but also a clear indication that then-offensive coordinator Jim McElwain was content handing the ball off to Trent Richardson and relying on that stout defense.

He made some mistakes and trusted himself too much at times, including in lackluster performances against LSU and Mississippi State in the regular season that saw him complete under 60 percent of his passes with two picks and zero touchdowns.

AJ McCarron INT vs. Mississippi State in 2011 (0:08 mark)

But with a over a month to prepare for the BCS National Championship showdown with LSU, Alabama threw a curveball. 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Alabama QB AJ McCarron

Looking to avenge their only loss of the season and claim the crystal football, the Crimson Tide put the game in the hands of McCarron and he delivered with flying colors. His 23-of-34, 234-yard performance on the game's biggest stage earned him offensive MVP honors of the game. 

It wasn't a coming out party for McCarron, it was a proclamation that he had firm control of the offense and that he could open things up whenever he wanted, including against top-tier defenses.

He isn't just a game-manager, he is a gun-slinger and proved it in 2012. McCarron makes smart decisions with the football, is remarkably accurate downfield and is comfortable with the speed of the game, which allows him to fit the football into tight windows.

AJ McCarron vs. Notre Dame

Take a look at the video above. McCarron is precise with his deep-outs (0:18 mark), flag routes (5:11) and over the middle passes, dropping it over the linebackers and under the safeties (1:05).

Do you view AJ McCarron as a "game-manager?"

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Yes, having the best offensive line and a two-headed monster in the backfield helps, but McCarron has matured as a passer, which has allowed the offense to evolve with him.

Things could get interesting in 2013. 

With three pieces gone off of that offensive line, Eddie Lacy collecting a check in the NFL and a star-studded group of wide receivers led by Amari Cooper lining up outside, this could be the season that McCarron lights up the stat sheet in a similar fashion in which he has been lighting up the win column throughout his career.

Judging from what we've seen so far, it looks like he can handle it.

 

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