Test For JPW

John Parker Wilson didn't have to be told that he would be making his first start in a Southeastern Conference road game this Saturday when the Crimson Tide goes to Arkansas. But he has heard it a lot. And so has Quarterbacks Coach David Rader and Head Coach Mike Shula.

"I know I'll be going up against a very physical secondary and linebackers," Alabama sophomore quarterback John Parker Wilson said. "It's our first road game. They are a good team. And I've heard it's a tough environment. I saw them first-hand last year. They are physical."

But, he said, "I don't know if I have concerns. I know we have to protect the ball, not turn it over. We need to just play our game. I don't really worry about being on the road. I have to have a good week of practice. Then I'll have a good chance to go out and show what I can do."

He said that preparation would include handling crowd noise.

He said he thinks Alabama is a contender for the SEC Western Division championship. "The first thing we have to do is play our game and not worry about anyone else. If we win every game, we don't have to worry what anyone else is doing."

Is Wilson's job getting easier as he gets more and more experience? Or is it getting harder because more is expected of him?

"I wouldn't say it's getting harder," he said. "The expectations are the same, except that I put some on myself. I think I expect a lot out of myself. I want to complete every pass, even though I know that's not realistic.

"We need to be sharp. Last week we weren't sharp. We scored a lot of points so that it doesn't show as much, but we left a lot of points on the board."

Wilson said it is an advantage to have good runners and good receivers. He agreed that it would be easy to look for one receiver, but said that isn't necessary "because we have so many."

Rader, Bama's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said, "I thought we took a step forward last week. We took advantage of opportunities. Now, we needed to take advantage of them earlier. This week we're going to be playing a fast, strong defense. If they give us anything, we've got to take advantage of it.

"We had been close. Last Saturday we scored touchdowns."

Rader said he wasn't going to dwell on this being Wilson's first start in a road game. "I really think John Parker plays on the field he is on. I don't think it (an away field) is a major factor in his mind."

Rader said the routine for Wilson would be the same until Friday, when Bama goes to Fayetteville for a walk-through before Saturday's 2:30 p.m. CDT game (CBS-TV). He said on Friday he'll expect Wilson to get accustomed to the 25-second clocks, depth perception towards th end zones, the sideline backgrounds.

Rader said that Wilson has seen "a lot of things" from Hawaii, Vanderbilt and ULM. "He should have confidence in the things at his command," the coach said.

The first three opponents have put three men in the box (near the snap of the ball) in an attempt to stop the Bama running game and force Wilson to make plays. Wilson has done that. He has completed 47 of 79 passes (59.5 per cent) for 670 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception. He ranks 33rd in the nation in pass efficiency.

"He has handled it well," Rader said. He said Arkansas may have eight men up close, but it will be "in a different way" than what Bama has seen. "They bring different looks and they seem to be more aggressive than ever.

"And," Rader added, "like everyone who plays Alabama, we will see their ‘A' game."

Wilson said it's "Great" having a former quarterback as a head coach. "He communicates with me real well."

Mike Shula was Bama's head coach in the mid-1980s. Shula said his advice to a young starter based on his own Crimson Tide experience would be, "Do as I say, not as I do. I wouldn't want to show him a tape of myself."

Shula added that his advice to Wilson includes "Be yourself. And use the talent around you. Stay on the field; don't do things that will take you off the field. If you keep making first downs, when you get down close you have play-makers who can get the ball into the end zone."

Shula said it is important that Wilson "not suddenly feel he has to win the game by himself. If he has to throw the ball away, throw it away. Things may happen more quickly than they have in practice. He has to adjust and make plays.

"And he's been doing that. He's made gtood decisions for the most part, and when he didn't he's come back and made adjustments and done well."

Shula said, "This is going to be his toughest test. I think the offensive line has been doing a good job. The offensive line and the quarterback have to stick with it and keep going."

Shula is not surprised at Wilson's success. "We felt good about him coming into this season," the coach said. "He had gone through a couple of spring practices and he played a little last year. But we still weren't sure.

"After three games, we've liked what we've seen.

"This is a new test; a very good test. We'll find out more about him. Hopefully he'll continue to get better."

Shula said that Wilson had shown exceptional "pocket presence" for such a young quarterback. "He moves around well," Shula said. "That buys a little more time for a receiver. It helps the passing game, helps the offense."

Shula said, "John Parker's arm strength is pretty close to Brodie's (former Tide quarterback Brodie Croyle, now playing with Kansas City in the NFL). We haven't changed our Xs and Os," Shula added.

Shula said there are "a lot of good young quarterbacks in the SEC who have had good high school coaching and been exposed to to more things in the passing game.

"And I think one of those good young quarterbacks is ours."


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