McCarron Manages To Get Job Done

Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, somewhat like his predecessor Greg McElroy, seems to be saddled with the "M" word -- Manager. There is a perception among some that McCarron doesn't have real quarterback skills, that he has been put in the middle of an excellent group of football players and his job is just to manage -- or manage not to lose the game.

A.J. McCarron is not the first Alabama quarterback to be labeled a game manager, nor was McElroy. When the Crimson Tide under Gene Stallings won the 1992 national championship with sophomore quarterback Jay Barker, the inside scoop was that all Barker was supposed to do was not have turnovers and eventually the defense would win the game.

Paul Bryant's first national championship team in 1961 had Pat Trammell at quarterback. "Alabama won in spite of Trammell," was one critique of the quarterback.

This week, Vanderbilt Coach James Franklin addressed the role of McCarron in the Crimson Tide offense. Bama hosts Vanderbilt at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium with television coverage by ESPNU. Alabama is 5-0 and ranked second in the nation. Vandy, in Franklin's first year as a head coach, is a surprising 3-1.

Franklin said, "He's in an ideal situation. He does a great job of managing the game. That's what they want from him. Whenever you're a young quarterback still developing and you can play behind a veteran, physical offensive line and have two backs that are difference-makers and game-changers in this conference and be surrounded by wide receivers and all those things, he's doing his job.

"I think they're... trying to put the kid in a position to be successful. He's doing a great job, and they're blessed to be in a position to allow them to do that with a young quarterback."

That sounds a bit like a left-handed compliment, or even a bit of a negative connotation.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban doesn't see it as a negative.

"The first thing a quarterback has to do is manage the game -- that means get the right signal, call the right play in the huddle, call the right check at the line, get your team in the right play, you throw the ball to the right place, and you execute the offense," Saban said.


That's what managing the game is, and that's very, very positive. "Being talented and not managing the game -- calling the wrong play, total disarray, lots of penalties, lots of interceptions -- how does that rate you? We haven't had that.

"Do we need to do a little better job as a team wen it comes to throwing the ball? I think so. But I don't think that's about the quarterback. It's about everybody involved in the passing game, from the protection, the route-runners, paying attention to detail and doing things the right way, having the protection, delivering the ball on time. You make more plays downfield, and when you have the opportunity you need to hit him.

"So there is no negative connotation in my mind when I say a guy is doing a good job of managing the game. That's a very positive thing to me, because I've played with some quarterbacks who couldn't manage the game and that's very, very frustrating.

"What it means to me is that you're doing things you're supposed to do so the players around you have a chance to execute and have success. "And I think we've gotten better at that each week."

Alabama center William Vlachos is one of McCarron's biggest boosters. Last Saturday night in Gainesville, in a loud and hostile environment, McCarron quarterbacked Bama to a 38-10 romp over the Florida Gators. Communication was an issue in The Swamp.

"He did a great job," Vlachos said. "He continues to impress me with the way he goes into these environments -- that was a really good defense we played -- and he continues to stay level-headed and poised and just into the game and what he has to do as a quarterback for our offense to be successful, and he just keeps doing it. We may not be completing 70-yard passes all over the field, but I think the job he's doing is outstanding."

Vlachos said McCarron is doing well because he prepares well.

"When you prepare he does and the way a lot of us do, you're really confident on game day for what they are going to come out with. You're ready for the noise, the defensive shifts, the personnel, whatever. The more you prepare, that's the way you get comfortable to play."

And, Vlachos said, McCarron has been that way since the opening of the season. He's not being asked to do anything midway through the season that he was not asked to do at the beginning of the year.

"They have confidence in him doing everything," Vlachos said. "He does everything Greg (McElroy) did. He makes checks at the line and we've been doing a lot of that type stuff. He makes great reads on everything. He continues to be efficient and not make mistakes."

Saban expects that to continue against Vanderbilt.

"I expect him to do what we want him to do to execute our offense, manage our team, take what the defense gives him," Saban said. "I don't really have expectations. What we focus on is the technical process of what a guy needs to do to be able to execute and that's what we're focusing on.

"We have all the respect in the world for Vanderbilt and what they've done on defense. They have a lot of interceptions. They've done a good job of ball-hawking. And one of the reasons they are having success is they have a great positive turnover ratio as a team and the secondary has made a lot of plays for them."

Saban recognizes the quarterback as a position where the mental is very important.

"I think everybody needs to have a certain kind of psychological disposition to play any position," Saban said. "I think one of the things that is most important at quarterback is that your ego doesn't get ahead of your decision making, which means I'm going to take and throw the ball to the right place and know that if every possession that we have ends in a kick we will be very very successful. Now we can kick an extra point, we can kick a field goal or we can punt.

"But when we just give it to the other guys because we're trying to prove to the world that we can throw it in there then we made a poor choice and a poor decision. That's where your ego gets ahead of your decision making.

"A.J.has done a really good job of managing that. I think we've been successful in not turning the ball over much after the first game. And that's the reason why. And I think that's very important to being successful.

"I think A.J. has gotten in a pretty good place psychologically for his position.

"I think it's important that he can stay there."

This year, McCarron has completed 75 of 120 pass attempts (62.5 per cent) for 919 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions (both interceptions coming in the opening game).

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