Can AJ McCarron Become An Elite QB?

US Presswire - AJ McCarron

When you think Alabama football 2011, you think of Trent Richardson and the second coming of the crimson steel curtain defense. You think of the defensive mastermind Nick Saban and mammoths along the offensive line opening holes the size of the gap between Madonna’s teeth. You think of the 21-0 shutout the Tide pitched in New Orleans.

But you don’t think of AJ McCarron.

McCarron is just considered to be a piece of the puzzle for a team with enough talent to compete with the Cleveland Browns. Does he get enough credit? Greg McElroy might be to blame for taking some luster off the Alabama quarterback position, not because he wasn’t good enough but because he was a ‘game manager’.

That’s what we all expected McCarron to be as well – a game manager. And he did it by bringing the biggest trophy in college football home with him from New Orleans.

When you think of elite SEC quarterbacks, you undoubtedly think of Tyler Wilson and Aaron Murray first. The second tier of players just on the cusp are two in Tyler Bray and McCarron.

McCarron will be learning under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier this year, for the departed Jim McElwain who took the Colorado State job.

In fact, Nussmeier was asked yesterday whether or not McCarron was an elite quarterback:

“When you start talking about elite quarterbacks, everybody has an opinion and everybody has certain players they like and dislike. I think when you look at AJ and the progression he made from the start of the season last season to the end and where he started spring football, where he ended spring football, he just continues to get better and better each day. I really believe he’s got a lot of upside still left in him and some things technically he can work on. I think you’ll see his game continue to elevate.”

McCarron returns as the third best passer in the SEC, throwing for 2,634 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions, behind the aforementioned Wilson and Murray.

Mindfully absent for 2012 will be all-world running back and workhorse Trent Richardson. McCarron will have to up his game and increase his production from a year ago. The bulk of his offensive line is returning, and new receivers are stepping into the fold.

While McCarron is not in the upper echelon of SEC quarterbacks, he’s battle tested and performed the best when it counted. Who doesn’t want that kind of quarterback leading your team?

With all the marbles on the line in New Orleans, McCarron played one of his best football games to date. And no, the stat line doesn’t jump out at you, but reviewing the game, McCarron made some key throws in crucial situations. He took what the defense gave him, and he never batted an eye from the get-go.

One year under his belt, and one national championship. While his status may never get to “elite” in anyone’s book, another national championship and SEC championship looks particularly good on the resume when arguing the elite status.

There is unfinished business in Tuscaloosa for the junior signal caller. He just has to work on improving his game and taking it to the next level, along with his tattoo.