The three huddled in a corner of Alabama's expansive locker room, discussing how to get the Tide's first-string offense out of a funk. It was halftime of last Saturday's A-Day spring game in Tuscaloosa, and coach Nick Saban, new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and quarterback AJ McCarron spoke for three minutes after 'Bama's first-string offense scored only nine points in the first half. "Don't worry, we got it," McCarron said confidently to Nussmeier as they walked through a concrete tunnel and back onto the field. "We got it."
Some 30 minutes later the 6'4", 210-pound McCarron showed why he was the biggest story of Alabama's spring. On a flea-flicker he lofted a textbook rainbow to receiver Kenny Bell for a 47-yard touchdown. Though limited by vanilla play calling ("We ran the same play on one drive nine times," McCarron said) and bitten by the interception bug (he threw three), McCarron passed for 304 yards on Saturday. "I'm just more comfortable with the whole offense," he says. "Everything feels much slower than last season."
Named the offensive MVP in Alabama's 21--0 win over LSU in the BCS title game in January, McCarron displayed increased arm strength this spring, especially on intermediate and deep throws. In January he had surgery to repair a dislocated labrum in his right shoulder. "We didn't tell anyone, but I hurt it against Arkansas [on Sept. 24] on the seventh play of the game, and I lost some velocity on my throws," says McCarron, who will be a junior next season. "But now my arm feels as strong as it's ever been. I'm more comfortable throwing the deep outs and deep crosses."
This fall Alabama will lean more heavily on McCarron, who averaged 202.6 passing yards a game in 2011. Nussmeier, the former coordinator at Washington (25th in the nation in scoring in '11) who replaced the outgoing Jim McElwain in January, will feature more three- and four-wide receiver sets than Alabama used last season, when the offense revolved around running back Trent Richardson.
"AJ has taken control of this offense," says center and 2011 Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones. "After what he's done this spring, everyone here expects a big year from AJ."