Who can't the Tide afford to lose?

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
8:00
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Without AJ McCarron, where would Alabama be?

For a split-second following the Tide's first scrimmage of fall camp the nightmare scenario had to be considered. Nick Saban told reporters that his quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate had his leg stepped on and was forced to the sideline late in the practice.

Gulp. Take a deep breath.

Then Saban made it clear: there was no real injury to McCarron and he'd be at practice the following Monday. And he was, much to the relief of Alabama's title chances. The strong-armed and accurate senior was at practice every day last week and participated fully in Saturday's scrimmage.

But wait the rumors of another injury to McCarron struck a week later. This time Saban said nothing, and instead McCarron took to Twitter himself, writing, "Ankle seems great to me. Rocking these @kobebryant shoes." He even provided photographic evidence of his feet, replete with the snazzy red sneakers.

[+] EnlargeCyrus Kouandjio
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsCyrus Kouandjio keys the Alabama offensive line and keeps AJ McCarron upright and the Tide could ill afford to lose him.
Whew. Crisis averted.

If all the nervousness and excitement around McCarron seemed silly, it's because it was. There was never anything seriously wrong with him. There was never any reason to believe he'd miss a game. In fact, he could have sneezed at the wrong pitch and Alabama would have rushed to Dr. James Andrew for advice on what exactly the gesticulation meant.

But the truth is McCarron means everything to the Tide's title hopes. Without him, there's no telling how many games Alabama loses. Could a quarterback be made ready in time for the opener against Virginia Tech? Maybe, maybe not. And what about Texas A&M two weeks later? Alabama couldn't beat the Aggies with McCarron a year ago. What would happen without him?

On and on down the schedule you could pick out close games and potential losses if McCarron weren't taking snaps under center.

Why? Because for as good a running quarterback backup Blake Sims is, he's not the answer in a long-term scenario. Saban can say how well he plays, as he did Saturday, but there's always a note at the end. This past weekend it was the small fact that he forced too many passes and threw three interceptions.

The truth of the matter is that Sims is inaccurate and he does force too many passes to covered receivers. If you watch enough of practice you'll see how the ball comes out of his hand. It isn't what you'd call "typical" of an SEC quarterback. He isn't the guy to sit in the pocket and make the progressions. He tucks and runs. And that's fine coming off the bench. But starting? No, after a few turnovers that job would likely fall to more of a pure passer like Alec Morris or Luke Del Rio or Cooper Bateman or Parker McLeod -- combined playing experience: zero games started, zero snaps taken, zero passes thrown.

If McCarron went down, Alabama truly would be in a world of hurt.

But that's almost too obvious. Outside of McCarron, who are the three most indispensable players for the Tide?

C.J. Mosley: Nothing about Mosley's game fits the typical Alabama mold. He's rarely the biggest or the strongest player on the field. Next to Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, he looked like a safety. But Mosley's sideline-to-sideline speed is outstanding, and in a league that continues to feature mobile quarterbacks that trait is invaluable. Last season Mosley became the first UA defender to break the 100-tackle mark since Rolando McClain, and he did it while splitting time. Now that the job is all his, it's up to Mosley to do even more in terms of production and leadership.

Deion Belue: A year ago Alabama fans would have scoffed at the notion of Belue being indispensable, but now he's the Tide's best cornerback and one of the few with any real experience. Without him, there really isn't much help for Saban to turn to off the bench. Geno Smith's status is unknown after a DUI, Cyrus Jones is still transitioning from playing offense a year ago and Bradley Sylve hasn't yet shown he's capable of playing meaningful snaps. Rookies Anthony Averett, Jonathan Cook, Eddie Jackson and Maurice Smith could contribute in the future, but now they're too green under the collar.

Cyrus Kouandjio: It makes sense that if McCarron is the most valuable player on the roster, the man charged with keeping him upright would have to be the second-most valuable. If that logic holds true, Kouandjio is irreplaceable as the Tide's left tackle and protector of McCarron's blind side. A future first-round pick with all the talent in the world, Kouandjio is the anchor to the offensive line. Without him, the group would be thrown out of whack and both the running and the passing game would suffer.

Alex Scarborough | email

Alabama/SEC reporter

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