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August 29, 2012

Quarterback position set; backup needed

TUSCALOOSA | Statistically, AJ McCarron would be hard-pressed to improve on his first season as a starter at the University of Alabama.

Completion rates don't get much better than 67 percent.

Touchdown-to-interception ratios don't get much better than 3-1.

The scoreboard test? Try 12-1 as a starter with a national title topping the resume.

And while plenty of quarterbacks average more than McCarron's 202 yards per game, most play in offenses that don't maintain as much run-pass balance as the Crimson Tide's attack.

But don't tell McCarron he can't be even better.

He's not buying it.

"We have to keep growing as an offense, keep getting our timing down, running game, passing game, everything just has to keep getting better," McCarron said.

McCarron will have the benefit of pass protection from a veteran offensive line this fall that returns four starters, but will have less experienced receiving targets at all the skill positions. Tight end Michael Williams will be the only senior among those targets, and even Williams has been more of a blocker than a receiver in his career.

McCarron, however, worries not.

"I know what those guys can do," he said.

Suffice it to say the Crimson Tide's 2012 passing attack is in good hands with a well-focused junior coming off a BCS national championship. Depth at quarterback, on the other hand, is more of a concern. With the offseason transfer from Phillip Sims to Virginia, none of the remaining competition behind McCarron has taken a snap in a game yet. Redshirt freshman Phillip Ely and incoming freshman Alec Morris have been competing in practice for the No. 2 quarterback job.

"Phillip Ely probably showed that he has a little more knowledge and experience, managed the game a little bit better, executed a little bit better," head coach Nick Saban said after the first fall scrimmage. "You know, the freshman (Morris) played like a freshman. He got a little bit rattled out there, had a hard time managing the huddle, got a little bit antsy in the pocket sometimes. But we're going to continue to work hard and try to develop those guys and continue to work with Blake Sims as well."

"The two young guys, obviously, with Phillip Ely and Alex Morris, those guys, the learning curve's a little steeper," offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said when fall camp began.

Sims is a third-year sophomore who has bounced in practice between quarterback and running back in his young career. Sims spent the entire season last year at running back and missed spring drills with a hip injury, but now, he's looking to contribute at quarterback once again.

Saban said Sims' running skills provide Alabama with a unique option at the position, but that Sims is still being developed.

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