Quarterbacks: An Early Look

Had Spencer Pennington not left the football team to pursue a baseball career, and Marc Guillon's shaky back not faltered again after spring training, Alabama would be entering the 2005 season with undeniably the most experienced quarterback group in the SEC and perhaps the country.

But that was not meant to be. Pennington saw a brighter future in his second sport, an assumption that will probably hold true if Brodie Croyle stays healthy in 2005. If Croyle can stay off the training table, any playing time the backups receive will be heavily compressed.

In Croyle, Alabama has potentially one of the five or ten best quarterbacks in Division-IA. Even though Alabama has other quarterbacks with good arms, they all look like pop flies after watching Croyle hum line drives into his receivers‚ bellies. Croyle has good feet, a quick release, and a lot of experience in critical situations.

But his health problems are not to be denied. Croyle has not gotten through a full season of football without injury since his junior year of high school except for 2002, a year which he spent backing up Tyler Watts. Counting on Croyle to stay healthy, particularly given Alabama's youth and inexperience along the offensive line, may be a sucker's bet.

Among the backups for 2005, true freshman John Parker Wilson got most of the work in the spring as a grayshirt. He showed promise, with good mobility, good arm strength and decent field vision. Unfortunately, he still has quite a bit of baseball in him, and his delivery goes sidearm on occasion as if he were throwing a ball across a diamond rather than a football field. At just around 6 feet tall, a sidearm delivery is a no-no, and Wilson had passes batted back in his face frequently.

Marc Guillon challenged Wilson for the top backup job, but his sketchy health will probably lead to the coaches readying Wilson to be Croyle's understudy. Guillon also failed to impress in starts against Arkansas and South Carolina last year, and with Wilson having two more years of eligibility left than does Guillon, the coaches might be looking towards the long term. If Croyle goes down and Wilson falters, however, don't be surprised to see Guillon get another look - if health allows.

Jimmy Johns and Jimmy Barnes, like Wilson, are true freshmen. Unlike Wilson, both are headed for a redshirt, provided they stay at the position. Barnes surely will; he is a quarterback only. Initial glances suggest he needs a lot of conditioning work and will need to adapt to the speed of the college game. Johns' physique makes him much more of a candidate to play in 2005 than Barnes, but the biggest question may be whether Johns gets moved to defense if a logjam happens in front of him at quarterback. He's too good to keep off the field.

Several walk-ons have gone from obscurity to playing important roles under center for Alabama, and redshirt freshman Adam Thrash would love to be the next in that line. Thrash has good size and put up impressive numbers in high school, but appears to lack both the mobility and the arm strength to challenge the other players at the position. He does have more than a year in the system, however, and could get called into duty at some point if the injury situation becomes critical.

Summary: As long as Croyle stays healthy, the question won't be if Alabama will have a winning season, but if the Crimson Tide will win the division. If Croyle misses significant time with injury, however, Alabama's fate will probably rest on the right arm of true freshman Wilson. Wilson appears to have more upside than either Guillon or Pennington showed last year, but he'll have to be judged in intercollegiate play before anything is known for certain. Like so many positions on this team cut down by probation, quarterback is a numbers game.

2004 Players: Brodie Croyle (3 games, 44-of-66, 66.7%, 534 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT), Spencer Pennington (9 games, 82-of-152, 53.9%, 974 yards, 4 TD, 8 INT), Marc Guillon (4 games, 20-of-43, 46.5%, 191 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT)

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