What A Difference Winning Year Makes

This time a year ago, the early prognostications for Alabama football included the warning that Bama had lost John Parker Wilson and would be going with a quarterback who had never started a college game. Wilson finished setting nearly every Alabama passing record in 2008, but seems like a distant memory.

That is not to diminish what Wilson did for Alabama. He's now playing in the National Football League.

This year Alabama is coming off a 14-0 season, including the Crimson Tide winning its 23rd Southeastern Conference championship and 13th national championship.

And one reason many are picking Alabama to successfully defend its national title is because it returns quarterback Greg McElroy, the same Greg McElroy who was considered a liability this time last year.

McElroy and his Crimson Tide teammates are in the first full week of spring practice. Bama will finish drills with the A-Day Game at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday, April 17, in Bryant-Denny Stadium. There is no charge for admission. ESPN will televise the event.

McElroy was efficient last year, completing 198-325 passes for 2,508 yards with 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He was the Most Valuable Player in the SEC Championship Game as he out-dueled All-America Tim Tebow. In the final regular season game of the year he directed a 15-play drive in the final minutes, finishing with a touchdown pass to Roy Upchurch to defeat the Tigers.

McElroy said that starting his second spring with a full year of successful competition under his belt makes it "night and day as far as my comfort level and my confidence level. I keep trying to remind myself that it's my first year to return as a starter since my eighth grade season. I'm very, very proud to have had the success we had last year, but I realize that there's so much more. We've just scratched the surface. We feel very strongly in our ability to improve and focus on the key areas where we fell short last year.

"I've come a long way. Not so much in my physical ability, but more so that I feel so comfortable. Watching the film, I look like a completely different player compared to last spring. Usually coming back from spring break, it's a pretty tough day. We just kind of picked up right where we left off. Obviously there are things to improve on and we're all looking to make those improvements. As far as personally for me, I just look like a different player. I'm extremely hard on myself. But I just look so much more relaxed and I think I've shown that the first couple of practices."

Last year McElroy suffered rib injuries. He played in the National Championship Game, a 37-21 win over Texas in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, but wasn't really a passing factor.

But McElroy didn't offer an excuse.

"I felt like I could go," he said. "It's one of those things that it wasn't going to get any worse. You're going to have to play through pain. I didn't feel all that hindered by it honestly. The great thing is that we just never had to go out and make a big statement through the air. Mark Ingram, the offensive line, Trent Richardson played fantastic, so we really didn't have to do a lot through the air, which made things a little easier on me. That's in the past now. I'm glad to be moving forward and to be healthy.

"I feel really good. Those ribs were a pretty tough deal for a while. I didn't feel good until the end of February. I'm glad I'm back to 100 per cent, because it's never fun to hurt when you breathe."

McElroy has pretty much forgotten the ribs. What he hasn't forgotten is the Alabama team trip to the White House to be greeted as National Champions by President Barack Obama.

"I'm a ridiculous patriot," McElroy said. "A lot of guys on this team are. Going to Washington, D.C. in any event would be wonderful and to do it and be congratulated by the President is unbelievable."

McElroy said he was glad the team had some time to see other parts of Washington. "I really was glad I got to see the Korean War Monument and the Vietnam Memorial," he said.

McElroy has heard talk of the offense having to carry the defense this year since the defense had substantial losses.

McElroy said, "The way I kind of look at it with the way Coach Saban has recruited is that it's not so much as a rebuilding year, but more a reloading year. There are capable guys all over this roster. I think our defense will be very similar, in the sense that people are ready to make an impact. I always have confidence in Coach Saban's ability to get people prepared, whether it's the offense or the defense. I know he's going to have us ready."

It's not a surprise that McElroy said he has not set goals for next season. "I don't think this is the time to set goals," he said. "I think there are areas we want to improve on." He noted that Bama sometimes struggled getting from the 50 to within field goal range last year, and that would be an area of emphasis.

He said there is motivation, and that "comes from within. The feeling we had—that Florida feeling from a couple of years ago (when Alabama lost in the fourth quarter to the Gators in the 2008 SEC Chamnpionship Game)—still resonates with a lot of us.

"We got the chance to experience a lot of success last year finishing on top, but I think we all want to be back there. We understand what it took to get to the top of the mountain. We understand the difficulties. We know the air gets thinner as you reach the pinnacle. So we've been there before. People are confident.

"I think people are still hungry in the sense that once you've been at the top why would you settle for anything less than that."

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