No Answer Yet To Quarterback Question

A staple of Southeastern Conference Media Days is the oddity of reporters interviewing reporters. One who has gray hair seems to be a particular target, and so I have been a part of that curious interviewee position for several years. And I knew going in to expect the "Who is going to be the quarterback?" question.

Most reporters know that Alabama Coach Nick Saban doesn't have to have a number one quarterback when the Crimson Tide begins practice on August 5. When I got the question, my answer was that I didn't know, that it wouldn't surprise me if A.J. McCarron, a third year sophomore who has no meaningful experience, got the job. Nor would it surprise me if Phillip Sims, a redshirt freshman who has been through two spring practices, won the position.

The main point I made is that the Al;abama quarterback race didn't have to be determined quickly. If one steps up clearly above the other during fall camp, so much the better. If not, both will be prepared to play in the season-opener against Kent State on September 3, and perhaps beyond – to Penn State on September 10 and North Texas on September 17.

Personally, I think there will be a determination by the time Alabama plays its first SEC game against Arkansas on September 24, but that's no written in stone.

Most coaches, and Saban has put himself in this camp in the past, prefer to have a clear number one quarterback. But if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. And Saban showed at LSU that he could win with a multiple-quarterback system.

I wasn't the only one asked about the quarterback situation at SEC Media Days. Apparently not content with my take on it, some reporters felt compelled to ask Saban.

Prior to the question and answer segment of Saban's presentation, the Tide coach – beginning his fifth year at Alabama and his first when he will play a quarterback that he recruited to Bama – included quarterback as one of the question marks that make the 2011 season a challenge.

After going over the four first round NFL draft choices to be replaced, Saban said, "And having a new quarterback, having two very young, talented players at that position who both have not had the kind of knowledge and experience that you'd like to have at that position, but obviously both players very capable and talented. Hopefully we'll be able to get both an opportunity to get some knowledge and experience early in the season so that we can play winning football at that position."

Greg McElroy handled quarterback duties the past two years, leading the Tide to the 2009 national championship and a two-year record of 24-3.

When Saban got the question – where does the quarterback battle stand? – Saban said, "It doesn't stand anywhere. It stands like it stands. We have two guys that are competing for the quarterback position. We're going to continue to manage those guys through fall camp. Neither guy has a tremendous amount of experience. We have a lot of faith, trust and confidence in both of their abilities. It will be interesting to see who plays better in the game, because we feel like both guys have done a really good job and both guys are talented enough to be very, very successful quarterbacks for our team."

It's interesting that many consider Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson a potential all-star. Last year he was back-up to Ryan Mallett and completed 34 of 51 passes for 453 yards with one touchdown. He suffered three interceptions. Bama's McCarron completed 30 of 48 passes for 389 yards. He had three touchdowns and was not intercepted.

And that is not a prediction that McCarron wins the Alabama job.

McElroy had a reputation as a "game manager" rather than a super talent at quarterback.

Saban was asked about that moniker as a negative.

"No," he said. "I think it's a part of the quarterback's job. I think when you manage the game, you make all the people on the offensive field feel like you're in command and you're in control in terms of the direction, how you call plays, the cadence, how you lead the team. And I think those things are an important quality in any quarterback.

"So regardless of your talent level, and I think that because you distribute the ball every play as a quarterback, it's important that your decision making and judgment is good, and that you actually do a good job of managing how you distribute the ball, which is a critical factor in playing winning football."

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