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Coming Soon to Alabama: McElroy and The Long Ball

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Coming Soon to Alabama: McElroy and The Long Ball
(Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

And so it begins. As another season of college football begins to sneak up over the horizon, Crimson Tide players reported for their first practice of the coming season. Following an impressive (if brief) return to the top of college football polls last season, and yet another recruiting masterpiece during the offseason, expectations for the Tide are high.

Numerous writers have spent hours in the glow of their monitors hashing out the keys and question marks for the upcoming season, and there’s little reason to rehash their points here. However, one aspect of the latest incarnation of the Crimson Tide has been somewhat under reported, and it’s an aspect that could change the entire complexion of Alabama’s offense. It seems that new starting QB Greg McElroy can put air under the ball.

John Parker Wilson received his fair share of criticism during his playing days, and not all of it was totally unwarranted. Wilson was a tenacious competitor, and much of the Tide’s improvement last season was the result of better decision-making on his part.
Nevertheless, two of Wilson’s shortcomings stood out during his days at the Capstone. He was never comfortable in the pocket, and he could not throw a touch pass.

Given hands-off rules in practice, it’s impossible to know whether Wilson’s replacement, McElroy, will be better than Wilson at standing in the pocket and delivering the ball when he knows the big hit is coming. Reports out of practice, however, suggest that McElroy throws the ball much more accurately down field.

If true, Alabama’s offense could see a major improvement this season. For all the talk in the offseason about finding a receiver to complement the Tide’s young receiving phenom Julio Jones, the fact is that Alabama already has talented receivers that don’t wear the No. 8. Marquis Maze, in particular, showed that he has the speed to get behind the defense, and the hands to make spectacular catches.

The main problem for the Alabama receiving corps last season was that their potential routes were limited by their quarterback’s ability. With a few notable exceptions (the already immortal pass to Jones at Georgia comes to mind, but there were others), most of the Tide’s passing attack was based on hooks, slants and outs. That is, routes that allowed Wilson to hurl the ball on a rope, which he did very well.

There were numerous times, however, when one of Alabama’s speedy receivers had broken open deep, only to watch in vain as the ball was slung just out of reach. If McElroy can make those plays count, the offense will improve immensely.

There are other issues, of course. A young offensive line will not only have to protect McElroy on the passing downs, but they also must provide the grunt work necessary for the running backs to keep the offense ahead of the down-and-distance. No matter who the quarterback is, 3rd and 4 is much easier than 3rd and 12.

Nevertheless, if the early reports are true, and McElroy has the ability to consistently throw the deep ball, Alabama’s offense will gain a much-needed vertical dimension.

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