John Parker Wilson looks like a quarterback, talks like a quarterback, and now has to be able to play like a big time quarterback for the Alabama Crimson Tide. And it's a bit of a surprise to the 6-2, 209-pound sophomore from Hoover. He thought he'd end up in professional baseball.
Wilson is certainly happy to be where he is, which is Bama's first team quarterback. He took that job in the spring, and the only question now is the order of the back-ups. (After one day it seems senior Marc Guillon is number two and the battle for number three is between redshirt freshman Jimmy Barnes and true freshman Greg McElroy.)
Wilson said he had a decent first day of practice Tuesday. Bama returns to the practice field in shorts and helmets again Wednesday afternoon before adding shoulder pads Thursday and Friday and full gear Saturday.
"It felt pretty good for the first day," Wilson said. "It was hot, but it's hot everywhere. We don't dwell on that."
Wilson went through spring training and summer workouts preparing for this fall opportunity. "I have to get used to running the offense, to communicating with the receivers and the line," he said prior to the start of drills. "As the quarterback you have to take your leadership role to a different level. It's a matter of being the guy."
He said, "It's good to get this chance. I'm going to work as hard as if I were third on the depth chart. The most important thing right now is being prepared for Hawaii."
Alabama opens the season at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday, September 2, hosting Hawaii in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Wilson said, "This offense puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback. There are a lot of reads and checks. I think one of the things I bring is a knowledge of the offense. And when a play breaks down, I think I can make a play."
One of Wilson's summer tasks was to study videotapes of spring practice. "I was better at the end of spring practice than I had been at the beginning," he said. "I need to do that in fall camp, too."
Much was made of Wilson throwing two interceptions in the A-Day Game. His head coach, Mike Shula, said as much following that contest, that mistakes couldn't be tolerated. Wilson said he wasn't too concerned with the interceptions. "One of them was just an A-Day interception, trying to make a throw you wouldn't try in a game," he said.
In fact, Wilson doesn't seem to let much bother him.
There was a question about working with a new center in Antoine Caldwell, who took over the position in the Cotton Bowl win over Texas Tech after playing at guard through the regular season in 2005. "He's the anchor of our offensive line," Wilson said. "I'm real confident in having him there. That Cotton Bowl game gave him a lot of confidence. I can't remember one snap problem we had in the spring."
Wilson believes a strength of this year's Tide is the offensive line with four returning starters. And, he said, "Having one of the best running backs in the nation (Kenneth Darby) really helps take the pressure off the passing game."
Head Coach Mike Shula agrees that the running game can help the passing game. "We want to be balanced," Shula said. "Darby takes a lot of the load because he's good, and that will help John Parker, but we want John Parker to help K.D., too."
He's pleased with the progress of the wide receivers. "It's nice to have D.J. (D.J. Hall) back," Wilson said following Tuesday's practice. "He adds something to the passing game."
Based on summer workouts, Wilson also has high hopes for incoming freshmen Earl Alexander, Mike McCoy, and Jake Jones. "They all have the potential to come in and help," Wilson said. "Earl never played wide receiver, but he's a great athlete."
Wilson said he thinks he has the same playing style as Brodie Croyle, Bama's record-setting quarerback of the past four years. "I might scramble around a little more than he did," Wilson said. "He has a stronger arm than I do, but I think I run better. I'll leave the pocket and throw."
David Rader, Alabama's quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, said, "He throws well on the run, going to his right or left."
Rader was asked about the prospect of having a relatively untested quarterback. The coach said, "I'd be lying if I told you it hadn't been on my mind all summer. I have a lot of confidence in what John Parker can do. But on the other side, we don't yet know how he'll respond in games. The only way we're going to find out is in games. What we'll do in practice is put him in as many game-like situations as we can."
Shula said, "We'll scrimmage as much as we can to get the young guys schooled up. With a young quarterback and other new guys, we can't get too much of that." He said in addition to the three scheduled scrimmages–August 14 and August 19 at Bryant-Denny Stadium open to the public and August 21–there would be other scrimmage-like work.
Rader said, "I think we have a chance to win with him. If we lose a game, I don't think it will be because we have a young quarterback."
Although some have compared Wilson to Tyler Watts, Bama's last option quarterback, Wilson said, "I'm not going to run the option and take on linebackers like Tyler."
He said he did get some good advice from Watts (1999-2001), who now does color commentary on Alabama's Pay-Per-View telecasts. Wilson said, "He told me to stay under center and don't fumble the snap."
Rader said, "I've tried to not say he looks like so-and-so or throws like so-and-so. I've told him he's John Parker and to do it his way. He's got a strong arm, a good release."