McElroy Seems To Be No. 1 Quarterback

Prior to the start of Alabama spring football practice (which was March 13), the host of a radio sports talk show asked me if it would be Coach Nick Saban's goal to come out of spring training with the quarterback race decided. It was my opinion that would not be high priority, an opinion that later was verified as correct by the Crimson Tide coach.

This week there will be stories that include a phrase along the lines of "Alabama is preparing for the A-Day game." That will be incorrect.

Yes, there is an A-Day Game coming up. It will be at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium with national television coverage by ESPN. A large crowd is expected.

But Nick Saban isn't preparing the team for that exhibition. Every snap of every practice is designed to make Alabama a better football team. The process is to have the Crimson Tide ready to play against Virginia Tech in the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta on September 5, the first game of the 2009 season.

It is no more important to Saban that Bama have the quarterback race decided in the spring than it is to have the right guard lineup set. There is no depth chart until game preparation begins, a week or so before kickoff.

Alabama will practice two days this week, Tuesday and Wednesday, and conclude spring football practice with the public scrimmage that is A-Day on Saturday.

There is no disadvantage in having a clear number one at quarterback. That seems to be the case. Greg McElroy paid his dues as the backup to John Parker Wilson for three years, the last two in the Saban system. He has learned the system and taken more snaps in it than any other quarterback candidate. And he has been the best quarterback in Alabama practices and scrimmages, according to Saban.

The other candidates aren't going to stop competing, so McElroy, a 6-2, 210-pound upcoming junior, will have to continue to compete. That's the nature of athletes.

The backups are Star Jackson, a 6-3, 195-pound redshirt freshmen who most consider the likely top competition to McElroy; Thomas Darrah, a tall (6-5, 212), strong-armed walk-on soph; and Morgan Ogilvie, a not tall (6-0, 185), very strong-armed walk-on redshirt freshman. Incoming freshman A.J. McCarron (6-4, 180) will join the corps this summer.

Somehow, a "quarterback controversy" (whatever that really is) with Nick Saban as coach doesn't seem likely.

McElroy's numbers from the first two scrimmages haven't been great, but they have been the best. McElroy has completed 34 of 59 passes (57.6 per cent) for 342 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions.

McElroy doesn't have a lot of game experience. As he establishes himself as the clear Number One for 2009, he gets most of the repetitions with the first offense, which means more work on the timing that is critical to quarterback success in working with the receivers. It means he'll be the man in charge of summer workouts. And he'll go into fall camp as the quarterback, even though compeititon is on-going.

Don't look for Saban to name a starting quarterback until much closer to kickoff against Virginia Tech.

It's not a surprise that McElroy has emerged as number one since he had been the backup. It also would not have been a surprise if he had not gone to the front. His previous experience was very limited. In eight games over two years, most of those games consisting of just a few plays of mop-up duty, McElroy completed 16 of 20 passes (80 per cent) for 196 yards. He had one intercepted and has thrown two touchdown passes.

Everyone knows one of his touchdown passes as an Alabama quarterback. Almost no one knows the other.

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