NEWPORT BEACH _ The University of Alabama coaching staff will have an interesting decision Thursday night should it need a replacement for junior starting quarterback Greg McElroy.
True freshman A.J. McCarron has vaulted up the depth chart, but it's unclear whether coach Nick Saban would use him in an emergency and take away his redshirt, or redshirt freshman Star Jackson.
"I take my reps with the twos, but coach just wants me to be prepared no matter what," McCarron said during Tuesday's Media Day at the BCS National Championship. "If I'm scout team, twos, ones it doesn't matter. I'm just trying to be prepared just like everyone else."
Jackson played in five games this season, mostly in mop-up duty, and has completed 13 of 18 passes for 116 yards. However, McCarron caught him during the course of the season.
"Probably the off week before the LSU game, coach called me in and told me I was going to be off the scout team and running our offense," McCarron said. "I was always learning our offense and Greg (McElroy) helped me out and things started clicking from there.
"I knew this offense with the scout team, but as a scout-team player you aren't learning it and coaches aren't coaching you to learn our offense."
The crowded depth chart has led to open speculation that Jackson might transfer this season to give him a better chance to play, which the 20-year-old did not dispute.
"I mean I ... this is the game I'm worried about," he said. "That might come up, I'll think about it, but right now I'm worried about the national championship."
When asked about a specific school, Jackson didn't comment.
Darrah to Jacksonville State
One quarterback who's definitely leaving the Capstone is sophomore Thomas Darrah.
"Last week I decided to transfer to Jacksonville State," he said. "I move my stuff on Saturday and start school on Monday. Quick turnaround."
Darrah has played in three games without attempting a pass. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound walk-on is from from Newnan, Ga.
"There were two choices, UT-Martin and Jacksonville State," he said. "The deciding factor was it was closer to my parents, only an hour-and-a-half away from where I live at home, and then I just fell in love with the offensive coordinator there, Coach (Ronnie) Letson, I think we're going to have a good relationship, it's a good offense, pro-style offense."
As for competing for the national championship his last game at Alabama, he said "I'm going to love it. It's a great, once-of-a-lifetime opportunity to be in a national championship game."
Harris staying put
Sophomore linebacker Jerrell Harris isn't going anywhere after being suspended for six games this season.
"It was very hard, to take away what you're doing and have been working hard at," he said. "It was real frustrating, but I made a mistake."
Harris played five games and made two tackles after he didn't come forth for receiving an improper benefit during the offseason, leading some to believe he might transfer.
"Those are just rumors, I want to play here," Harris said.
Junior linebacker Rolando McClain and freshman safety Rod Woodson both missed the media session due to a stomach bug. Neither illness was considered serious.
Senior cornerback Marquis Johnson, who has been wearing a cast on his left hand and wrist due a fractured thumb sustained the final practice before the team broke for the holidays, claimed he can catch with it and has been practicing like usual.
"I'll be good and ready to go," he said. "I still have four fingers."
Junior running back Terry Grant won't play Thursday and will have his abdominal strain evaluated Monday.
"I don't see anything that's making it better," he said. When asked to compare it to his previous sports hernia, he said, "The last one just kind of came up, was sneaking up on be. This one was way different, but it was still the same feeling."
Senior running back Roy Upchurch said he would be ready for Thursday after being spotted Monday in a black no-contact jersey.
Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart spent a lot of time working with sophomore safety Mark Barron to get him ready for the starting lineup.
"We had to get him on the field with Rashad (Johnson) leaving, he was a guy who had to take on a large role, and he did that," Smart said. "We had to get him reps and we got him in there and laid it on him."
Barron responded by leading the Southeastern Conference with seven interceptions to go with 70 tackles and was named third-team All-American by the Associated Press.
"He was probably the same caliber of player last year, he didn't play as much but was just as talented," Smart said. "We actually tried to start him a couple of times last year and he didn't know the system, didn't understand it. The whole year of playing, moving to strong in the spring and then coming out this season. Really a talented, special athlete and sometimes I don't think he knows how good he is."
Alabama practiced Tuesday afternoon, its fifth day here, and will go through a final walkthrough Wednesday at the Rose Bowl stadium. The media day was the last access reporters have to players until after the game. "We were talking about that on the bus ride over, like, 'I'm so ready to get out of here. We're in California, how can you say that?' junior quarterback Greg McElroy said. "Just the fact that we've been in the same area and we've been doing the same things, it's kind of getting monotonous. It's been a blast, nonetheless, but we came here to win a football game, and that's just the bottom line, and we're excited to do that. We're excited to have the opportunity to do that. We're just ready for our opportunity to get out there and show the world what we're all about."
Although true freshman D.J. Fluker has been spotted lining up at defensive tackle during drills, he's not planning on making a position change. "I'm working on the offense line right now," he said. "I only do that just for looks." As for his chances of becoming a starter soon, he said. The season went very well, real nice, I learned a lot. Learning the offensive system took me a while but I'll get it. … We have some good guys on the line. We'll see how spring goes."
High-energy strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran, who holds up four fingers the entire fourth quarter, admitted that he actually does get tired: "I'm about worn out at about 9. (My wife) knows that, it's shut-down time. We put the kids to bed around 8, so it works out perfect.
According to Jackson, last year's loss to Utah has helped the team keep its focus here this week. "It's a big factor," he said. "This year is a lot more serious."
Special-teams coach Bobby Williams on how the Tide improved in kick coverage: "We changed the personnel a little bit and we changed our scheme a little bit, and that helped us. The emphasis was really put on it at the beginning of the season because we gave up two touchdowns early in the year. It was a point of emphasis every week throughout the year. We faced some really good kick returners throughout the year."
McCarron on learning Alabama's offense: "It's tough, it's not easy. Believe it or not, the signals for the play calls take a long time."
Senior defensive back Chris Rogers grabbed a microphone and had some fun lobbing questions at All-American cornerback Javier Arenas, but about the only thing he got out of him was after asking what went through his head the first time he saw Terrence Cody: "He's big and can't really move." However, Arenas did say he's been having fun calling people in Alabama and asking about the cold weather and snow. "I like being on the phone telling everybody, 'I'm in California, where are you at?" he said.
McElroy on the personalities of Saban and Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp: "I don't laugh at them. They scare me."
Teaxas' Lamarr Houston told reporters that when he sat next to Colt McCoy on one of the Disneyland rides the quarterback has his eyes closed and was "screaming like a girl." "Yeah, he was doing the same thing on the Tower of Terror," McCoy said. "Ask him who he was holding on to. I felt like my arm was going to fall off he was squeezing so tight." McCoy also had fun Tuesday when a reporter asked if he could hold up physically as well as Tim Tebow. "Are you saying I'm small?" McCoy asked. "I'm saying you're a lot smaller than he is," was the response. "I'll take it," McCoy said.