Time to open the RBR mailbag, and guess what are the pressing questions this week?
To answer the former question, no I have heard nothing about McElroy or Fanuzzi. I'm not an "insider" and don't claim to be, but obviously I follow my beloved Crimson Tide very closely. With that said, I have not heard one peep regarding McElroy or Fanuzzi, and to be precise no one of any real significance has even mentioned the possibility of them getting meaningful playing time in the near future. Aside from random fans wanting Wilson benched, I can't even say I've seen either's name in print more than a handful of times over the past month.
Moving on to the latter question... McElroy will get snaps this week, just like he does every week, in practice. Will he get more snaps than normal? Eh, maybe, but honestly I doubt it. This is the eleventh game of the season, and it's really too late in the year to have a quarterback change. If Saban were going to make a definite switch at quarterback, it would have likely occurred before now. It's not like the Mississippi State game was the first time Wilson has struggled this year. For better or for worse -- and lately it has very much been for worse -- Wilson is our starting quarterback and we just have to hope he plays well. McElroy is likely only to play if Wilson is injured, or in obvious mop-up duty situations.
Hopefully we will be able to get the back-up some snaps this weekend in mop-up duty, but it's no guarantee. Obviously, we would have liked to have gotten him more playing time to date, but games have been so close that it has simply not been feasible. Though we are currently 6-4, all nine contests since the Western Carolina game have went right down to the wire, and there have just been no opportunities for the back-ups to see any playing time. And, unfortunately, that might be the case against Louisiana-Monroe as well.
I'll answer the latter question first with a definitive yes. Nick Saban would bench his own son if he thought it would help his team improve, and no exceptions will be made for Wilson. If at any point Saban and company feel that Jackson -- or whoever the player may be -- makes us a better team by being in the game, then he'll get the starting nod. This isn't Club Shula, exceptions will not be made.
Now, about that scenario for 2008...
At this point it's very hard to say. Wilson has the abilities to play good football, and he has showcased that many times. He may very well take off next year and have a good, solid year and all of this become a pointless discussion. On the other hand, if he continues to struggle like this, the coaching staff is going to have to look to another option.
McElroy and Fanuzzi will be possibilities, of course. McElroy is already in his second year, and he is apparently mounting no legitimate challenge whatsoever for playing time, even considering how terrible Wilson has played at times this year. You never want to overly criticize a young player, but at the same time, one must objectively wonder just how bad McElroy must be to not even be able to push Wilson for playing time as bad as he is playing. I may be wrong, but my gut instinct tells me that if McElroy cannot contend for playing time this year, it's highly unlikely he'll ever be the man. Again, that's speculative and may be wrong on my part, but that's how I feel about him objectively speaking.
Nick Fanuzzi may be another story, however. He was slightly more recruited than McElroy, and Fanuzzi has a lot going for him in terms of natural ability. He's got good size, 6'3 and 205 pounds, and he has a big arm. Moreover, he's very mobile in his own right and is a very good runner. Most recruiting services pegged him as a 4.6, and he rushed for over 1,000 yards as a quarterback in his senior year facing some tough competition in San Antonio. He was committed to Miami before coming aboard with the Tide, and he generally got some good reviews for his work in Fall practice. I would not be the least bit surprised to see Fanuzzi compete for playing time next year.
Regarding Star Jackson, it's possible that he could play some, but no one should be underestimating the difficulty of playing as a true freshman quarterback in the SEC. To be sure, we've seen a few do it with moderate-at-best success in recent history -- Chris Leak, Erik Ainge, Matt Stafford, etc. -- but all of those players were very good football players and they were generally put into good situations surrounded with a lot of talent. In those situations, highly talented players were put in somewhat limited and simplified offenses and generally instructed to simply distribute the football to other players and allow those players to make the plays. At best they were game managers who, with literally no significant upperclassmen on the depth chart, were just asked to not lose games.
So, for Jackson to play, he likely must be as good as advertised -- and perhaps even better -- and we must be able to put him in a good situation. We must be able to effectively run the football and use him in the passing game via the play-action and by moving the pocket in ways that by and large result in one-read throws.
But here's the kicker: If we can surround Jackson with that kind of ability, Wilson will likely be more than adequate to get the job done. Wilson would normally be an adequate quarterback is he was surrounded by a good running game, but we don't have anything near that at the moment. Wilson's problem is that he's not a particularly good quarterback, and when you have to put the offense almost solely on the back of a player who is nothing particularly special, you are in trouble, and that's essentially what we've seen this year. So, we'll need a good situation to put Jackson into, but if we have that good situation it's unlikely he'll be needed because Wilson should suffice.
Though it may be the popular choice amongst many, it's unlikely that Jackson will see a lot of playing time next year. Yes he may play some, and he may see some meaningful snaps, but at this point the most likely scenario for Jackson to get onto the field is for us to be terrible on offense and the coaching staff just decide to turn to him in hopes that his mobility will give us a spark, much like Auburn did earlier in the year with Kodi Burns, for example. If Jackson is playing a lot next year, I'm afraid that's not a particularly good sign of things.
Again, for better or for worse, Wilson is our starting quarterback. McElroy, at this point, seems highly unlikely to contend for any significant amount of playing time, and though Fanuzzi may be able to next season, that is a stretch. Star Jackson seems very talented and apparently has a bright future, but realistically there is only so much production that you can expect from a true freshman quarterback.
The quarterback position is very frustrating at the moment, no doubt there, but realistically there is simply not much that can be done about it in the short-term. Again, for better or for worse, Wilson is our starting quarterback, and unless Fanuzzi can really make a charge in 2008, we're just going to have to focus on improving the situation surrounding Wilson and hope he improves on his own. It's not ideal that Wilson is our main option at the moment, just like it wasn't ideal that Josh Booty was LSU's main option in Saban's first year in 2000. Again, though, you cannot do a whole lot in the short-term. We're going to sink or swim with Wilson.
Just like at LSU, though, eventually the situation will get better. In 2009 Jackson will have a year in the system, and A.J. McCarron -- the highest rated quarterback to come out of the state of Alabama since JaMarcus Russell -- will likely be in Tuscaloosa as well, and things should really start to take off from there. But for now, Saban must do the best with what he inherited, and that essentially entails hoping for the best with Wilson.
That's an interesting question, and it's one I don't have a concrete answer to. Saban willingly benches others for poor play, so why has Wilson not been benched. I'm not sure, honestly, but I would say, most likely, there are two reasons.
One, there simply may not be a viable alternative. As I mentioned earlier, if McElroy cannot contend for playing time now, you really just have to wonder how bad he is as a player. Yes, Saban did bench Terry Grant earlier this year, for example, but none of the tailbacks are particularly distinguished and benching Grant, Saban knew, would result in drop-off in production. If McElroy is simply not a viable alternative, however, Saban knows that benching Wilson will result in a massive drop-off in production from an already low level of production.
Two, benching the quarterback is different than benching other position players. The quarterback position is very unique in that sense that it is the ultimate leadership position of the team, and as a result he is responsible for motivating players, distributing the football, and getting the offense into the right play at the line of scrimmage. Obviously, benching the quarterback is a much more weighted decision than, say, benching the right guard. I doubt this is a major factor -- Saban showed no hesitance at juggling quarterbacks at LSU in 2000 and 2004, nor in Miami in 2006 -- but nevertheless it deserves mentioning.
I would say, as an educated guess, that the decision to not bench Wilson is a combination of those two factors.