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August 28, 2010

McElroy aims for better numbers but same result

TUSCALOOSA _ The numbers are pretty resolute.

In his 14 victories as the starting quarterback for the University of Alabama, senior Greg McElroy has completed 198 of 315 attempts with four interceptions, 2,217 yards and 17 touchdowns.

In a conference where five teams don't have any quarterback on the roster with a career start, he's the only one in which it's impossible to compare his winning statistics to those of his losses because he doesn't have any.

Yet, McElroy is still looking to take that next step as a player.

"I think he's more comfortable and he's playing with a lot of confidence this camp," Coach Nick Saban said. "I think the players have a lot of confidence in him as well."

If there's one label the Texas native would like to shed it's that he's primarily a field general who more than anything manages the offense. While he led the game-winning drive at Auburn and was the game MVP of the SEC Championship Game, the reputation sort of stuck through the offseason after McElroy didn't throw much during the BCS title game when he was playing with a painful rib injury.

That and Alabama was considered a run-first team behind Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, with a rush-to-pass ratio of 601 attempts to 346 (1.7 to 1).

"I don't know if my role is different, it's to be the distributor which is what the quarterback does," McElroy said. "I've done a good job getting the ball to my playmakers faster, I think my decision-making has gotten a lot quicker. I don't hold the ball too long, I think that's helped our offensive line out a good bit and also our wide receivers.

"After playing with those guys for a year and understanding what their strengths and weaknesses are, and be able to anticipate what they're going to do, say on an option route, those are the things that have really improved a lot from last year."

Actually, there are a number of things the Tide has been working on offensively with timing a particular point of emphasis, especially with junior wide receiver Julio Jones. They connected seven times for 99 yards and two touchdowns during the pass-friendly first scrimmage, and four times for 56 yards in the second -- although Jones did have a ball go off his hands and to a defender for an interception.

That was rare last season, with McElroy only having four passes picked off, which broke down to one over 81.24 attempts or 1.2 percent of his attempts.

But timing isn't just between the quarterback and his intended receivers.

"It's a number of things in the pass game, it's (getting) your drops right, it has to be receivers and quarterbacks," junior H-back Brad Smelley said. "The way we're working, hours and hours a day on it, you're going to improve and I think they have, I know that they have.

"Greg's really throwing a sharp ball right now."

The extra year of experience translates to other areas of the offense as well, even the line despite having two new starters.

"Last year we were real basic in protection in large part due to my inexperience," McElroy said. "This year we put in some different protections, we make different calls depending on what kind of blitzes they might be bringing, we'll adjust to Mikes, we'll do all kinds of things.

"Some of that we didn't do last year but it's really helped us out in the passing game because we're able to protect ourselves from a quarterback standpoint and I'm able to get the ball out."

One statistical area that he'd to see get better is his completion percentage, which was already pretty good. His 60.9 rate was third-best in the Southeastern Conference and his 140.5 passer efficiency rating was fourth. Topping the league was Florida's Tim Tebow at 67.8 percent and 164.2 rating.

If McElroy could approach those kinds of numbers consistently there's no telling how good Alabama's offense might be. He's also shown signs of it, with 14 straight completions against Florida International set the Crimson Tide record, and the following week against North Texas his 13 of 15 tied UA the record for highest completion percentage (with at least 10 attempts in a single game).

Ideally, it all ties together, the quicker release and fewer sacks combined with fewer drops, which coaches hope add up to more explosive plays. That's not just with the passing game but the already well-established running attack as well, because with better passing opponents won't be able to load the box to focus on the run like they did last year.

"I feel like we can be the best in the country, no doubt about it," Smelley said. There are so many weapons."

Instead, the bigger challenge will likely be dealing with the grind of the season, with 12 opponents gunning for Alabama like it did Florida last season, more than half of which will be coming off bye weeks.

"A lot of teams have us circled on the schedule," McElroy said. "We understand that and being the defending national champions and having the success we've had here the past couple of years, we understand what it takes to play at a high level week in, week out, because you're going to get everyone's best shot. That's just the nature of playing at Alabama."


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