Alabama Football: Preview of the 2012 Passing Game, A.J. McCarron and Receivers

Jimmy McMurreyAnalyst IIDecember 22, 2011

Kenny Bell.
Kenny Bell.Butch Dill/Getty Images

While it is almost a given that the Alabama playbook will change little in 2012, even with a new offensive coordinator, the calls are likely to differ from that of 2011.  The biggest change will a substantial increase in production from the passing game.

Though the amount of passes called for won't change, the effectiveness of the passing game itself will be much higher.  There are several reasons as to why an increase is likely to occur.

A.J. McCarron will be a redshirt junior next year, and like Greg McElroy did in his first year A.J. has helped the team to the national championship.  In McElroy's second year he had slightly more passing attempts-per-game but his production across the board went up by a significant margin.  The trend will continue into A.J. McCarron's second year as a starter. 

Here is a look at the two quarterback's stats as first-year starters.

2009 vs. 2011 Games Attempts Comp. % Yards
Greg McElroy 14 325 198 60.9 2,508
17 4 140.54 179.1
A.J. McCarron 12 294 196 66.7 2400
16 5 149.80 200.0


A simple look at these stats implies that McCarron has clearly performed better than McElroy did in 2009.  McCarron lacks the clutch plays that McElroy had, such as his sideline hop for a first down in the SEC Championship game against Florida, or the game-winning "The Drive" in the 2009 Iron Bowl. In contrast, McCarron has been far more consistent, despite his relatively "rough game" against LSU.

A.J. McCarron.
A.J. McCarron.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images




Here are McElroy's stats from 2010, his second year has a starter.

2010 Games Attempts Comp. % Yards
Greg McElroy 13 313 222 70.9 2,987
20 5 168.99 229.8

In 2010 McElroy was a fifth-year senior with a lot of experience, especially on big stages.  As players develop and get older they get better as well.  As displayed by the stats Greg McElroy's production increased dramatically.  There are several reasons for this.  


The biggest reason was that McElroy had a deadly target in 2010, whereas he did not in 2009. Receiver Julio Jones' production nearly dropped in half from 2008 to 2009 (mostly due to nagging injuries) and he had less than 600 yards receiving.  In 2010 he almost doubled that with his first—and only—1,000-yard season.

McElroy, like McCarron, had Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks available, and while they have always been "good", they have never been "great".  

In 2011 A.J. McCarron also lacked a blue chip receiver.  Though at times he did not see wide open receivers, he did do well enough overall.  Due to this lack of a supreme receiving target, McCarron was forced to spread the ball around a lot—more than any other Alabama quarterback under Nick Saban.  I further investigated this in another article, A.J. McCarron Continues Surprising Passing Trend.

Greg McElroy was outstanding, but A.J. McCarron is just better.
Greg McElroy was outstanding, but A.J. McCarron is just better.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images



Next year, McCarron will have that envied big target.  Marquis Maze, Trent Richardson, Brad Smelley and Darius Hanks (his top four targets, in that order) will be gone, but they will be replaced with a dangerous receiving corps.


They will be spearheaded by Duron Carter, a recent transfer who redshirted this year due to academic issues.  As the son of the legendary Cris Carter, the 6'4", 210 lbs. Duron is very similar physically to Julio Jones, though with less top-end speed and better hands.

Carter will be backed up by a slew of former 4-star receivers, some with substantial playing time in a crimson jersey:  Kenny Bell (6'1"), DeAndrew White (6'0"), Marvin Shinn (6'4"), Brad Sylve (5'11" and will likely be the fastest player on the team), Danny Woodson, Jr. (6'2"), Ronald Carswell (6'0"), and newcomers Chris Black (5'11") and Amari Cooper (6'2").  



Again, these guys were/are all 4-star rated receivers.  There are also numerous former three-star receivers on the roster that look quite good, such as Kevin Norwood.  

The only thing that could possibly make this receiving corps more impressive would be adding highly-coveted Dorial Green-Beckham (6'6", 220 lbs., sub 4.5 40-yard time), the best receiver in the land of high school football. Though the odds of that look less and less as time goes by, you never know.


The receivers will be joined by Michael Williams, the Tide's massive 6'6", 270 lbs. tight end.  Williams has not been utilized much in the passing game this year due to his lack of speed and weak catching ability. 


Williams has worked diligently all year to improve his catching skills, and he will have a veteran quarterback in McCarron throwing to him in 2012.  His size makes him a potent red-zone threat that will be highly valued by the coaches.  


Harrison Jones could also be a big factor at tight end.  He's the perfect size (6'4", 248 lbs.) for a heavily-utilized Nick Saban H-Back and he's a serious threat in the passing game, regarded for his downfield playmaking ability.  If he plays as well as his older brother, Tide standout and Outland Trophy winning offensive lineman Barrett Jones, then he's just another Crimson Star in the making.

Eddie Lacy will be the Tide's No. 1 running back in 2012, of that there is no doubt.  As a receiver Lacy has proven to be a potent weapon on dump-off and screen passes.  He will be the perfect panic button for A.J. McCarron.  


The Crimson Tide will hold true to their love of the running game in 2012, but they will pass just as much as they have in the past—no more, no less.  The difference will be in the production.  As in recent years, the quarterback will attempt around 300 passes, but McCarron easily has the potential to eclipse 3,000 yards.  

From a preview perspective there is also the matter of Phillip Sims still competing for the starting quarterback position.  The odds of that happening seem about as likely as not hearing Tim Tebow's name at some point tomorrow, and if McCarron has another 200-yard (or more!) performance against LSU that results in a 14th national championship, well...

Alabama may be reeling from personnel turnover in 2012, but the quarterbacks and receivers won't be contributors to the anxiety.