13 August 2008
| Who are the players at the position?
John Parker Wilson - #14 – SR – 6-2 – 211 – 2 Varsity Letters
Greg McElroy - #12 – SO – 6-2 – 220 – No Varsity Letters
Nick Fanuzzi - #18 – FR – 6-3 – 207 – Redshirt
Star Jackson - #2 – FR – 6-3 – 195 – True Freshman
Who is the expected starter?
In one of the most closed battles on campus, Wilson is head and shoulders above the rest.
Who is the expected #2?
Right now it’s Greg McElroy, though he’ll be pushed throughout the rest of fall camp by Star Jackson.
No position on a football squad is broken down and analyzed more than the quarterback. Like a pitcher in baseball the quarterback gets branded with the win or loss, despite the fact that there are a number of other players and factors that go into determining the outcome of a game. Nowhere is this better exemplified than with Alabama’s returning starter at QB John Parker Wilson.
Despite the fact that he holds every significant single season passing record in Tide football history, and should by mid-season hold every significant career passing record; Wilson is not a fan favorite. That’s probably a bit of an understatement as well, as he is almost universally trashed on the internet and on talk radio. Why? Alabama is 13-13 with him at the helm.
To quote former Bama head coach Gene Stallings
, “It doesn’t take a Phi Beta Kappa” to see that Wilson has probably been surrounded by some of the sparsest offensive talent seen in Tuscaloosa in 50 years. And the talent that he was surrounded by lacked the drive and leadership to help him be successful – see the fact that neither DJ Hall
nor Keith Brown
was selected in the NFL Draft as an example.
Wilson is not totally without blame, though. Key turnovers at exactly the wrong time have given Bama opponents extreme momentum, if not the 7 points needed to win the game. Whether it is the interception to close the half at Starkville, or the fumble in the 4th quarter against LSU, both in 2007, Wilson has had a knack for having his worst plays at the worst times.
Never mind that the play calling at Mississippi State just prior to the interception was atrocious. Never mind that a bogus over turn of a great catch by Matt Caddell
prior to the fumble against LSU would have likely not put Bama in a position to have been passing. No, in the world of the internet and talk radio it’s easiest just to pick one person to blame and go for it.
The problem for Wilson is that of the 13 losses that he’s been at helm for, only 2 have been by greater than 1 score. Alabama’s total margin of loss in those 13 games is 87 points, or just under 1 TD per loss. And when all of the losses are close, 1 play seems to stick in the minds of the fans. And, unfortunately for Wilson, too many times in those 13 losses has that 1 play been made (or not been made) by Wilson.
So we should just pack it in… move on… mail in the 2008 season… expect more of the same… right? Wrong.
There is reason for optimism, and that reason comes in the form of new Tide Offensive Coordinator and Quarterback Coach Jim McElwain
. Regarded by many as one of college’s football’s best teachers of the quarterback position, McElwain comes to the Tide from Fresno State, where he helped to completely transform the career of Bulldogs QB Tom Brandstater.
You might have seen these numbers before, but they bear repeating. In 2006, the year prior to working with McElwain, Brandstater’s numbers were mediocre - a 54.5% completion ratio with 14 interceptions to 13 TDs, 1,490 yards and an 89th ranked QB rating of 106.7. In 2007 with McElwain - 62.6% completion ratio, 15 TDs to 5 interceptions, 2,654 yards a 23rd ranked 140.5 QB rating.
After working with McElwain for an entire spring practice and 11 days worth of fall camp, Wilson appears to be a different quarterback. According to Nick Saban
he has more confidence, and is able to move past a mistake easier. He is making better decisions, and most important is throwing the ball more fundamentally sound.
So what's behind Wilson? Coach Saban has said at numerous times this off-season that Alabama fans should pray every night that John Parker Wilson remains healthy, because he is the Tide’s best chance at winning football games.
Bama has 3 other scholarship players at the position, as well as 2 walk-ons and a Bryant Scholarship recipient, so there are plenty of bodies. But is anyone ready to take over the helm and direct the Tide offense?
At least so far it doesn’t look like it.
is first in line, mostly by virtue of the fact that he was the Tide’s backup QB last season. Not that being the backup amounted to much more than wearing a head set, carrying a clip board and signaling in plays from the sidelines. McElroy took snaps in only 2 games, blow outs against Western Carolina & Tennessee, and attempted just 9 passes, all in the WCU game. He completed 8 of those, which led to wild speculation on the part of some fans that McElroy was the next coming of Joe Namath. Those fans failed to take into consideration the opponent.
While Greg has a good head for the game and a good throwing arm, he lacks experience; not just at the college level either. Greg comes from powerhouse Dallas, TX high school South Lake, where he sat for 2 years behind current Missouri starting QB Chase Daniel. In McElroy’s one year as the starter for South Lake, he put up huge numbers, but the fact remains that Greg has just 1 year of experience of being a quarterback.
Behind him are redshirt freshman Nick Fanuzzi
and incoming freshman Star Jackson
. Fanuzzi took a handful of snaps in the Western Carolina game before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. Jackson comes to Alabama as the Tide’s most elite high school signal caller since Brodie Croyle
. Athleticism is the game for both of these guys, as they are just as capable of hurting you with their legs as with their arms. But raw is unfortunately the word that most describes each of them.
That might be where the tutelage of Jim McElwain comes in most handy. Sure, it would be nice for Wilson to see the same type of improvement that Brandstater saw, and the Tide to have a great 2008. But the future of the quarterback position is in the hands of 3 guys who can be molded, mostly from scratch, by a guy who is known to be a QB guru.
It is worth noting that walk-on Thomas Darrah
had a fantastic A-Day game, leading many Bama fans to throw his name into the prospective QB battle this fall. The 6’6 Darrah has the strongest arm on the team, and a long TD pass to Marquis Maze
was the reason that a lot of fans got excited. Dismissing him as a walk-on seems a little silly when Bama starts a former walk-on and now All-SEC player in the secondary in Rashad Johnson. But the reality is that Darrah is 5th on the depth chart. He and Bryant Scholarship recipient Morgan Ogilvie
will helm the Tide’s scout team, with Darrah taking on the role of pocket passers & Ogilvie enacting dual threat QBs.
So if Wilson is the definite guy here, the unquestioned starter, is there anything worth watching behind him?
Obviously injuries can happen at any time, so all of Bama’s backup QBs are the proverbial “one snap away” from being under center. But the real thing to watch is the battle for playing time behind Wilson. Unlike last season I believe that the Tide coaching staff will make a concerted effort to get another quarterback some playing time this season. Wilson graduated this past Saturday and will finish his college career in 2008 – so Bama’s next starting quarterback, the one to helm the Tide in 2009 is almost certainly in Tuscaloosa today, battling for that 2nd spot.
The guy who gets that 2nd spot not only puts himself in position to earn playing time in 2008, but also gets the most practice reps of the backups, which will put him in the best position to win the starting job in 2009.
But for now this is John Parker Wilson’s team. For better or worse, that’s the case. None of the other quarterbacks have even come close to pushing Wilson for the job in fall camp. And that means that John Parker Wilson will have (likely) 13 games in which to improve on his 13-13 career record. He’ll have that one last chance to leave a lasting impression on Tide fans, to try to salvage his career in the eyes of thousands of people that he’ll never meet.
For the first time in his career Wilson will not be asked to win games for Alabama. The Tide should have enough offensive weapons around him. He has a veteran offensive line, and a stable full of running backs to help take pressure off of the passing game. The receiver corps is green, but extremely talented and deep.
For the first time in his career Wilson should have the supporting cast that it takes to win. He’ll still have to play well, and he’ll have to eliminate the crushing mistakes that have plagued his career so far. But for the first time in his career it appears as though the weight of the Alabama season will not rest entirely upon his shoulders.
glen55's Quick Takes
**It's not that I don't have hopes. McElwain does
have a good record developing quarterbacks, and Wilson has
shown plenty of talent to succeed in the SEC, and he did
show a marked improvement in the bowl game in what had clearly been his biggest technical weakness, i.e., looking off his primary receiver to find the open guy.
So yeah, I have hopes. But confidence? That's a different story.
**It's not the turnovers that bug me. Sure, there have been a couple of big ones, but maybe they wouldn't have been so big if Wilson hadn't kept us in games by being pretty stingy with turnovers most of the time. In fact, his overall turnover stats aren't bad at all.
**What it is, it's the packing it in. It's that blank stare the rest of the game after a mistake. It's throwing it away, repeatedly, when under no pressure at all - sometimes even on third down. It's the second half of the Arkansas game, the Georgia game, the Houston game, the Mississippi St. game, the ULM game, the Colorado game.
**My biggest gripe with the coaching last year is that we never pulled JPW. Admittedly, I had no knowledge at all of what the backups looked like, but there were a couple of times last year, in second halves, when I seriously thought that a talented high-school guy who knew the plays would do better than Wilson.
**Yeah, this is harsh. Mr. Wilson, I have harshed upon you. Now go out on the field and cram it down my throat.