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Saturday, January 12, 2013
Offseason storylines: McCarron's backup?

By Alex Scarborough

Editor's note: The season is over and the Alabama Crimson Tide are national champions yet again. But what happens next? TideNation examines the most pressing storylines of the offseason as the Tide gear up for another title defense.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's the "What if?" no Alabama fan wants to consider: What if AJ McCarron went down with a serious injury? What if he was gone for two or three games? What if the injury were so egregious he had to be sidelined for an entire season? Who would be the starting quarterback then?

Hypotheticals are not something coach Nick Saban likes to deal in. That policy includes even the simple comparative analysis of one former player to a current athlete. He only deals in absolutes. Luckily, we're here to pick up the slack.

Alec Morris
Alec Morris, who redshirted this season, will battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot in 2013.
The most obvious evidence that Saban isn't fond of his current quarterback situation came on Monday night during the BCS National Championship Game. With the game well in hand, McCarron never left the field. Neither Phillip Ely or Blake Sims warmed up seriously on the sideline. With a four-touchdown lead, Saban didn't want anyone but his starter under center.

It's been a pattern of behavior that dates back to a blowout win over Missouri on Oct. 13 where McCarron was injured during the game and returned to the field, prompting some criticism for not leaving a backup in to finish out the second half. There was no threat of a Missouri comeback, yet Saban wanted his starter and not Ely or Sims in the game, even on a rain-soaked, potentially hazardous field.

Ely and Sims combined to attempt just 14 passes this season, completing nine for a whopping 119 yards. Granted, Sims brought the element of the read-option to the offense, but it's difficult to imagine Saban going to an offense he has never run full-time before. Sims' most valuable asset might be his ability to mimic other dual-threat quarterbacks on the scout team. No doubt he's getting his Johnny Manziel impersonation ready for Sept. 14.

"I’ve been asked to take a role to help our defense perform very well, execute very well, against a great opponent," Sims told reporters before the national championship game. "I think I’ve done a good job and as the days get close to the game, I think everything is coming together real well."

But Sims is also ready to play the part of Blake Sims when necessary.

"It's a two-role thing," he explained. "Getting the team ready by playing Everett Golson and also getting myself ready to play. … It's fun for me. I'm going against our good defensive players."

Sims and Ely will have their hands full for the battle to become McCarron's backup during spring and fall camp. Alec Morris, a strong-armed freshman who redshirted this past season, will have his say in the competition. The Texas native is a similar quarterback to Greg McElroy. Both played big-time Texas high school football and while they weren't highly recruited out of school, whatever they lack in measurables they make up for in savvy and coachability, something Saban covets.

"He's not a kid that has any issues being coached hard," Jeff Fleener, Morris' former offensive coordinator at Allen High, told TideNation. "He understands the number one priority is to take care of the football."

The wildcards at the position will be incoming freshmen Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod and Luke Del Rio. Bateman, the third-ranked pocket passer in the ESPN 150, is the most talented of the trio, a player whom scouts say has a high ceiling for development at the next level. At 6-foot-3, 196 pounds, he's ready physically but as with any young quarterback, the biggest question mark will be his ability to master the playbook. Like with Morris this past season and McCarron in 2009, expect the three incoming freshmen to redshirt their first year on campus.

That is, unless something happens to McCarron and then the competition will become wide open.