Analysis: Avoiding injury will be key for Tide’s McCarron
by Mark Edwards
TUSCALOOSA — Spring practice begins Saturday for Alabama, which makes now a great time to examine what the defending national champion returns at each position.

Today, we’ll start with the quarterbacks and examine who’s in the mix to play, either now or in the future.

The returnees: AJ McCarron, rising senior; Blake Sims, junior; Phillip Ely, sophomore; Alec Morris, redshirt freshman; Cooper Bateman, freshman; Parker McLeod, freshman; Luke Del Rio, freshman.

Coming in the fall: none.

Outlook: When Alabama opens practice, the Tide will have a sizeable crowd of quarterbacks working out under second-year assistant coach Doug Nussmeier.

Alabama has four scholarship quarterbacks returning from last year’s national championship team and two more signees who registered for classes in time to go through spring workouts. In addition, there’s Del Rio, who spurned major college scholarship offers to walk on at Alabama. He enrolled early, too.

But, really, all that matters at Alabama is McCarron. If he can remain upright for the whole season, the Crimson Tide has a shot at a third straight national championship.

And so far, McCarron has shown it’s awfully hard to put him down. He started every game his sophomore season, even though he got hurt in the fourth contest of the year. He suffered a dislocated labrum in his right shoulder against Arkansas, which required surgery after the season.

As for last year, he recently told he played the final six games of the year with injured ribs. He said three ribs “came out of place” in Alabama’s win over Mississippi State and affected his ability to practice the rest of the season.

Even though he clearly struggled to throw the ball in the next two games — a win over LSU and a loss to Texas A&M — he took every important snap for the rest of the season.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has remained fortunate with quarterbacks. He has started only three in six years at Alabama, which equals how many Auburn started last year. John Parker Wilson started every game Saban’s first two years, then Greg McElroy started every game the next two years.

But what if McCarron goes down and stays there? In 2012, Blake Sims won the backup job, and if nothing else, he offered a huge change of pace from McCarron. While McCarron dropped back and rarely scrambled, Sims seems like a run-pass quarterback. But in his chances to play last season, Sims usually was a run-run quarterback.

For Saban, running doesn’t seem that important, as he prefers the kind of quarterback who can manage the offense and locate receivers downfield.

Any of the other quarterbacks could win the backup job. Saban has hinted he won’t necessarily give the edge to someone just because they’ve been on campus longer and have gained more practice experience.

For that reason, don’t count out Bateman, who has a strong, accurate arm and is built similar to McCarron. Ultimately, he could wind up as the starting quarterback in 2014.

However, for the start of the 2013 season, Sims, Ely and Morris will compete hard for the second-team job. And if Sims learns to throw occasionally — and do so accurately — he might keep his spot behind McCarron.

As for McLeod and Del Rio, they’re darkhorses.

But all of that is secondary for now. All that matters for Alabama is McCarron and his ability to deal with whatever injuries he suffers along the way.

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter @MarkSportsStar.

© 2013