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March 2, 2012

Spring preview: Quarterbacks

Tidesports.com's annual preview of spring practice at the University of Alabama begins with a look at the quarterback position. This is the second of an eight-part series previewing one position each day until spring drills commence on March 9.
Phillip Sims (left), AJ McCarron (center) and Phillip Ely (right) are UA's only scholarship quarterbacks on hand this spring.

Moving on
UA loses no scholarship quarterbacks from the 2011 team.

Moving forward
Starter AJ McCarron's 2011 season established him as nothing less than one of the Southeastern Conference's most productive returning passers. He averaged better than 200 yards per game last year (third in the league) with a completion percentage of 66.7 (best in the league) and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of better than 3-1. Spring drills represent a chance for McCarron to build chemistry with new receiving targets who will be looking to fill the roles vacated by 2011 seniors Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks and Brad Smelley. For McCarron, there is also an on-field relationship to build with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Outgoing OC Jim McElwain knows Nussmeier well, however, and told Tidesports.com last month that the two should be a strong fit. One area where McCarron might look to improve this spring is his touch on the deep pass, which he overthrew at times last year.

Moving up
Phillip Sims returns after spending the 2011 season as McCarron's top backup. His playing time was limited after some action early in the season. He finished the year with eight appearances but only 28 pass attempts. Freshman reserve Phillip Ely spent the season redshirting, learning the offense and working with the scout team. With Sims being the go-to man if McCarron were to go down, he'll continue to get enough practice reps against the first defense to keep him as sharp as possible. Thanks to a healthy and productive season for McCarron, fans still don't know exactly what Sims looks like under center in a pressure situation. Those close to the program, however, are convinced the third-year sophomore-to-be has everything in the toolbox needed to succeed when called on.

Moving day
None of UA's eight early enrollers are quarterbacks.

Position overview
With a national championship quarterback returning with two years of remaining eligibility, UA would appear to be in outstanding long-term condition at the position. McCarron was a confident player with limited experience a year ago, so with a full season of action under his belt, he should enter spring drills even more assured this year. Sims gives UA a gifted backup whose competition with McCarron for the starting job lasted through fall camp last year. Sims debunked rumors of a transfer when interviewed in New Orleans before the BCS National Championship Game, and seemed genuinely pleased to be at UA. Meanwhile, Ely continues to develop as a reserve and will begin to see younger competition in the fall when quarterback signee Alec Morris arrives.

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