Alabama Football Preview 2011: AJ McCarron or Phillip Sims?

Sims vs McCarron
Sims and McCarron battle for the starting quarterback position at Alabama. Photo by UA Media Relations.

Part 2: The Quarterback Battle is the big question mark, but Alabama has other talent and other question issues

The 2011 Alabama football team will win or lose as a team. However, who plays quarterback is the most important question mark going into the season—at least for many fans. Will it be A.J. McCarron or Phillip Sims? The quarterbacks enter the 2011 season with limited or no college experience. McCarron saw limited action in 2010 for the Alabama Crimson Tide. McCarron threw for 389 yards and three touchdowns last season for the Crimson Tide. McCarron is 6’4”, 190 lbs. from Mobile, Alabama. McCarron was a sparkling 6 of 6 for 51 yards in the bowl victory over Michigan State. Sims is 6’2”, 217 lbs. from Chesapeake, Virginia. Sims saw no action last season for the football team as he was on the bench with a redshirt.

So, it would seem like A.J. McCarron is ahead of Phillip Sims. But that is not the case. At the end of Spring Practice, both quarterbacks were close.

“We obviously have two quarterbacks that both played well this spring,” Alabama Crimson Tide coach Saban said in his Spring Teleconference. “That will continue to be a competition.”

Saban indicated a decision on who plays quarterback might not be made until the season is underway.

“The key to it is going to be how these guys play when the fur flies and that is when the games come,” Saban said.

Saban went on and said a two quarterback system would be a possibility.

“Until somebody separates, I have no problem doing (playing two quarterbacks),” Saban said. “I really don’t. I like both guys. I have confidence in both guys. We have confidence in both guys and I think our players do.”

What does this all mean? This is nothing more than speculation, but with both quarterbacks so close together and with McCarron already a year further along in the Alabama system and with some playing time, it is inconceivable that the race would be this close. That means Sims is the likely choice to get the bulk of playing time in 2011 for the Alabama Crimson Tide. That’s right. I’m predicting Sims will be Alabama’s starting quarterback by the meat of the schedule. This is based on nothing more than a gut feeling that Sims is about even with McCarron now, and has shown substantial leadership qualities in his limited opportunities like the A-Day Game. This is not a negative about McCarron, but simply a reflection of how good Sims could be.

In this year’s A-Day Game, McCarron and Sims split time with both Crimson and White teams. According to the official University statistics release: “McCarron was 13-of-19 for 129 yards and one touchdown with one interception with the Crimson team and was 8-of-19 for 93 yards for the White team. Sims completed 11 of 20 for 138 yards without a touchdown or interception for the Crimson team and was 8 of 18 for 91 yards without a touchdown or interception for the White team.”

Of course, the Alabama football team is a team. And much of the offensive production will focus on one of the best running backs in the country—Trent Richardson. Since Richardson arrived at the Capstone, he has impressed. With dramatic runs bouncing off tacklers to fast sprints through the open field, Richardson can do it all. In this year’s A-Day Game, Richardson was the leading receiver with 85 yards on seven catches with one touchdown.

But Alabama fans should not quickly forget Mark Ingram. The Heisman Trophy winner was a hard worker on and off the field. Plus, the dynamic backfield tandem that Alabama possessed is no longer there. With the two backs Alabama possessed in 2009 and 2010, it provided tremendous depth. Now Alabama is presented with less depth in the backfield. While Richardson is an amazing worker on and off the field, Ingram was special.

The type of stats Richardson posts will largely depend on Alabama’s offensive line. This should be a strength for the 2011 Alabama football team, but one area of particular concern will be left tackle. The Crimson Tide had penciled in Barrett Jones at the position, but this moves Jones from his previous spot at right guard. There have been past troubles when moving players around—can anyone remember the Sugar Bowl against Utah? Of course, there was considerably less time to prepare for that move. It is rarely the best choice to put a true freshman into the spot at left tackle, but it will be interesting to see how Cyrus Kouandjio performs during Fall Camp. It would be nice for Alabama if the coaches could have Jones in his previous position and have a more settled look with four players in their regular spots. You could see a real difference in last year’s offensive line when players like D.J. Fluker were healthy and playing. Offensive lines are at the best when they have consistency and experience.

Another wildcard in the offensive line situation is the new offensive line coach. After last season Joe Pendry retired and now Jeff Stoutland is on the job.

“This is a great opportunity to come to the University of Alabama and coach the offensive line,” Stoutland said. “I’m leaving behind a great group of young men at Miami, but this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up…When Coach Saban called me and asked if I would be interested, I was excited. The first thing I thought of was winning. I think anybody that follows college football realizes Coach Saban’s record of success, what he’s been able to accomplish in college football, and I’m all about that.”

Much of Saban’s success was fueled by strong fronts on offense and defense. For the 2011 Alabama team to have success it must execute at the offensive line. This makes Richardson’s success possible, but is also of critical importance with young quarterbacks. Both the potential starters need as much time as possible in the passing game. Strong line play can alleviate some of the pressure on the quarterbacks. The line can do it two ways. First, the line must open good lanes for the running backs; this was what made the 2008 and 2009 teams so special—the team could always run when it needed to do so. Second, the line must minimize its own mistakes in penalties. If the team can stay in manageable situations then the quarterbacks can face favorable down and distance. This is always a statement of the obvious, but for young quarterbacks it is even more important to keeping mistakes at a minimum.

The receiver situation also is a big question mark. Can anyone be as dynamic as Julio Jones. Jones was a once in a lifetime receiver. You simply cannot expect to fill that role. Nevertheless, there are options for Alabama’s passing game. Getting Duron Carter on campus is a big boost for the passing game. He will pair nicely with Marquis Maze. Maze is worth watching. He has 80 receptions for 1,217 yards entering his senior season.

The Alabama offense can be very good in 2011, but there are many question marks to answer entering Fall Camp. Who plays quarterback? Who plays left tackle? These two are the most obvious and lingering questions. Who do you think starts in these two positions? Share your thoughts below.

Also, read Part 1 of our preview that focuses on Alabama Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban.

15 Comments

Add Yours
  1. 1
    BamaBrando

    I agree that Sims will likely be the starter several games into the season. I think both QBs are pretty good, but Sims has come on strong. I sat behind the red team bench at A-day on around the 45 yard line, and McCarrons demeanor when he got upset for some reason was pretty bad. The players around him just didn’t respond to him as well as they did Sims, when they switched at halftime. Sims may be a little further ahead in having that leadership ability than McCarron right now, and I think that is what will ultimately separate them this coming season once they actually get on the field and play a few games. Of course, I am just basing my opinion on the A-day game, so I could be wrong. McCarron seemed to play angry, while Sims just seemed glad to be there, and was having the time of his life. Maybe the pressure of competition is affecting McCarron more.

  2. 2
    bamabino

    I was more impressed with Sims during the spring game. He was far more willing to hang in the pocket under pressure and still make some good throws. McCarron bailed early on at least 5 or 6 plays and didn’t have the speed to get to the edge and keep the play alive.

  3. 3
    Denny Chimes

    I believe Saban really wants to start Sims because he knows he is the most talented. The question is whether McCarron comes across as a “game manager” in the same vein as McElroy and makes fewer mistakes. If that’s the case, Saban may go with McCarron as a safer choice. Rest assured, Saban will play whomever he thinks gives him the best chance to win.

  4. 4
    BamaBrando

    I think McCarron will be the safe choice to start the season, but I believe Sims will get meaningful snaps early on also. If Sims looks strong early, I think he eventually becomes the starter before the meat of the schedule hits. But either way, it is good to have really good competition at QB. I don’t think Bama could go wrong with either one. I don’t think Bama will have a 2 QB system though. There will definitely be a starter and a backup that gets quality playing time regardless.

  5. 5
    BigSid

    I was really impressed with McCarron last year and fully expected him to be the Tide starting QB, then I saw Sims! He play in the spring game was very impressive, as well as McCarron’s. I could live with either choice but I think Sim’s has a lil more talent. Its great to have the competition at that position but I feel bad for the guy who comes up second, because I think both these guys have the potential to play at the next level.

  6. 6
    Mike M

    Sims clearly give Bama another year at QB also. If made the starter he will play QB for 3 years to McCaron’s 2. If Sims is already even with McCaron in the Spring game look for him to separate from the 2 come the fall.

  7. 7
    Crimsonite

    Hell guys for the amount of time he got to play the most impressive QB of the A-day game was the other Sims. That’s probably why he’s gonna be the Wildcat QB. Although I still don’t agree with subing someone to play the Wildcat QB and giving the other team a chance to adjust. It works better to just shift into it and go while they are scratching their nuts. I think that is an advantage that Phillip Simms would give us with his running and option ability. No need to sub anybody. Just shift Simms to Wildcat position and let the behemoth Richadson block for him or sneak out for a pass. Ouch!

  8. 9
    tide1957

    The QB position is McCarrons to lose, so I’ll wait and see if he loses it. Coach will play the best QB, I’ll wait and see who plays. The decision is in good hands. Roll Tide!

  9. 11
    dutchman617378

    O.K. Listen people , A. J. HAS THE EARNED THE THE TO GET THE KNOD. i f he doesn`t perform then the discussion is on.

  10. 12
    BamaBrando

    No one is really saying AJ won’t ‘GET THE KNOD’. But everyone who has been keeping up with practice and paying attention to what Saban has said knows Sims has just as much of a chance to start as AJ does. Saban has no problem even putting a freshman in front of a Senior, if the best player is on the field. Seniority hasn’t meant as much to Saban as previous Bama coaches.

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