Depending on the circumstances, they are either one play or one year away from primetime.
Led by redshirt freshman AJ McCarron, a young group of backup Alabama quarterbacks has been impressive this spring, by all accounts, behind returning starter Greg McElroy.
Through two scrimmages, only the fifth-year senior has thrown an interception as early freshman enrollee Phillip Sims enters the suddenly deep quarterback lineup.
A season ago, McCarron passed Star Jackson on the depth chart late in the year to become McElroy’s backup. Jackson still played in the second half of the Chattanooga game because McCarron hadn’t played all season. Coach Nick Saban kept him on the sideline to preserve that redshirt, but if McElroy would have gone down, it would have been the Mobile products’ job.
Saban has mentioned the progress of all four quarterbacks on multiple occasions this spring. McCarron, he said, has done a good job of learning and placing himself in the Tide offense. He just needs to improve his game management skills.
“(McCarron’s) physical ability, his ability to throw the ball, his decision making, continue to develop extremely well,” Saban said after Saturday’s scrimmage.
Now, with Jackson missing several spring practices because of academic issues, Sims could be close to taking the third spot. One of the top high school quarterbacks in the nation last fall, he completed 15 of 19 passes in Saturday’s second scrimmage of the spring.
McElroy is back after a strong finish to his 2009 season. None of the other three Bama quarterbacks is expected to take his job if he remains in good health, but McCarron is putting up numbers impressive enough to make things interesting if a prolonged slump were to hit the veteran this year.
In the two scrimmages, McCarron completed 39 of 58 passes (67 percent) while McElroy is 31-for-49 or 63 percent with the pair of interceptions.
“(McCarron) has been kind of my little pupil this last year,” McElroy said last week. “I’ve tried to teach him as much as I know which is similar to what John Parker (Wilson) did with me. I know I sure benefitted a lot from his coaching. AJ continues to make improvements. He takes a lot of pride in his work.”
Not listed in the passing statistics for the first scrimmage, Sims made his case by completing 79 percent of his passes Saturday for 139 yards and a touchdown.
If Sims and McCarron keep progressing, there will be quite a battle for the starting job a year from now.
“Phillip is coming along really well,” McElroy said. “He is starting to play faster, which is the biggest difference for a quarterback. He is starting to pick it up, and he obviously has a lot of physical talent. It’s just the mental aspect and the speed of the game that is very different between high school and college.”
The prospect of a battle is exciting, McCarron said in January, but he isn’t getting too far ahead of himself. It’s not about focusing on the competition, he said.
“I know how I play the game and what I’m capable of,” McCarron said before the BCS National Championship Game. “And that’s all I really care about.”