In 2009, the main concern by Alabama fans going in to the season was first year starter Greg McElroy.  Coming off of an undefeated regular season and SEC Championship game appearance in 2008, Alabama was proven at almost every position on the field going in to 2009, except the most important one.  Those questions were emphatically answered as the first year starter McElroy led the Crimson Tide to the BCS national championship.  McElroy’s efforts have set the bar high for future first year starting quarterbacks .

In 2011, Alabama looks to begin the season with a top 10 team, returning nine starters on defense and key offensive playmakers such as Trent Richardson and Marquis Maze.  The pieces to make another title run appear to be in place.  However, much like 2009, one key question stands above all others.  Who will be lining up under center for the Crimson Tide?

The assumption among Alabama fans is that redshirt sophomore A.J. McCarron will make a natural transition into the position.  After all, McCarron (6’4-190) completed 30 of 48 passes and three touchdowns in mop up duty for the Crimson Tide in 2010.

AJ McCarron

At times, most notably the game against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in October, McCarron showed he had all the tools of a future starting quarterback.  However, on other occasions, the young quarterback showed signs of indecisiveness and a tendency to force passes into heavy coverage.  In games against San Jose State and Georgia State, McCarron took most of the snaps in the second half.

“I’m going to be a leader,” McCarron said recently.  “I’m going to take this team and let’s roll as if it’s my team already….I think I’m really prepared.  I have a lot of confidence in myself.  I think that’s something you have to have as a quarterback, especially playing in the SEC.”

Redshirt Freshman Phillip Sims (6’4-215) arrived in Tuscaloosa in January 2010, along with lofty expectations of his own.  Knowing that Greg McElroy was entering his final season, Sims felt that the early arrival in Tuscaloosa would enhance his chances of replacing McElroy as the starter.  Fans were immediately excited at Sims’ dual threat capabilities.

Though he did not see game action in 2010 Sims was able to take snaps in practice.  During practice for the Capital One Bowl, the amount of snaps Sims took in practice increased.

All it takes is one glance at Sims’ high school highlight real to realize how gifted he is.  It is a dilemma that most Alabama fans welcome.

Despite the competition for the starting job, McCarron says that he and Sims are “great friends.”

This will be one of the most highly anticipated Spring practices in recent memory at Alabama, with most of the spotlight being placed on the battle for quarterback.  So who will win the job?

Here some key things to watch for in the battle between McCarron and Sims:

For all of his greatness, one thing that seem to be missing from Greg McElroy was the ability to consistently complete passes over 15 yards.  McCarron has shown the ability in limited minutes to hit the deep pass.  Many Alabama fans remember the 43 yard completion to Julio Jones late in the game against Tennessee.  Until proven otherwise, one would have to assume McCarron has the edge over Sims in this area.

Part of the hype surrounding Sims arrival in Tuscaloosa was his dual threat capability. Many compared him to Michael Vick when he was in high school in Virginia.  His ability to run opens up the playbook for the Crimson Tide and gives them a weapon at quarterback they haven’t had at that position.  This is clearly an advantage that Sims offers more than McCarron who is more of a pocket passer.

Perhaps the most important question may not be answered until long after Spring practice concludes.  Which player has the ability to step in and lead the Crimson Tide to a championship?  This is a question that will indeed take time to accurately answer.