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January 25, 2014

Experts weigh-in on McCarron's absence from Senior Bowl

MOBILE | He was one of the main story lines surrounding the Senior Bowl and he wasn't even there.

When hometown quarterback AJ McCarron passed on an opportunity to participate in the annual event it ruffled more than a few feathers around Mobile, and it raised the eyebrows of NFL scouts and executives.

His rationale wasn't fully explained until Tuesday when McCarron told the Mobile Press Register that toe, shoulder and hamstring injuries kept him away from his dream of playing in the Senior Bowl. McCarron said he was "fully cleared" Tuesday and began training the same day at the D1 Sports Training facility in Jackson, Miss. McCarron himself tweeted a video of him throwing and running at the facility during the week.

It was clear that McCarron wasn't fully healthy towards the end of the season, and he took just partial reps during the media availability portion of practices at the Sugar Bowl. But the timing of his announcement explaining his decision to opt out of the Senior Bowl bewildered some.

"I'd say absolutely it hurt him," one AFC scout said. "I think it's kind of a slap in the face of his hometown. He might view himself as a top three or four quarterback, but I don't necessarily know if the rest of the league views him that way. You just want to see him compete...I know there are quarterbacks that pull out every year, but they're guaranteed top 10 picks. AJ's not guaranteed that at all."

Of course McCarron could always aruge that his three years of game film should be enough to prove his ability. He won 36 games as a starter and set several school passing records along the way.

Fairly or unfairly he was saddled with the title "game manager" despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, McMarron proponents say.

"The thing I've always felt about him, and I've been a big champion of his, that game manager term that he had to live with for so long, I always said it was done and never should have been uttered again after the championship game against LSU," NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said. "He wasn't a game manager that night. If you watched the championship game against Notre Dame, how did they start that game? They put the game on him. OK? Then they gave it to Eddie Lacy later. You don't do that with a game manager."

But even Davis, a self-described fan of McCarron, says he thinks McCarron passed on an opportunity.

"I think he missed a chance to lock down and solidify himself maybe as the top senior guy coming out in terms of quarterback position," Davis said. "It may ultimately turn out that he's still rated that way and he may not miss anything, but I don't know about taking a chance. I don't know what he feels about where his draft status is, but from everyone I talk to and I've talked to a few people pretty prominent, they all felt like he needed to be here to lock it down. That was their opinion. Now his may be the right way to do it. We don't really know. We've had many times where we've said, 'That guy should be here.' Who knows how it's going to go.

"Last year was E.J. Manuel a lock first-rounder before he got here? Nope. How did that turn out? A couple of years ago, Christian Ponder, would you have believed he was going 12th in the draft before he got here? Nope. So all I'm saying is this game, the week can help vault you in a big way, where it can help solidify things for you. I'm not in the camp of flat-out criticizing him. I hope it doesn't come off that way. I'm not that guy. I just think, boy, it's a gamble."

McCarron dealt with a toe injury that lingered throughout the season and had what UA coach Nick Saban labeled "shoulder fatigue" on top of dealing with a sore hamstring he hurt against Tennessee. Understandably, McCarron wouldn't want to essentially work out for all 32 NFL teams if he wasn't fully healthy.

"If there were any kind of injury concerns and if you're not going to be 100 percent you shouldn't go down there and risk further injury," one scout said. "If that's the case then he was in the right doing it.

"The bulk of his resume is already done. Honestly, the kid's a winner. He's done a lot of great things down there. What I'd say he has to improve most is getting stronger. Being able to pick up a new offense is going to be key because he's been in the same one for a long time. Those are all things I think he'll do. I think he'll do well."

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Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron.suttles@tuscaloosanews.com or 205.722.0229.

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