If his two-year starter, who led the Crimson Tide to back-to-back national championships, had decided to forgo his senior season and head to the NFL Draft, Alabama would have been in some deep you-know-what under center.
Alabama has three guys behind McCarron on the depth chart in Blake Sims, Phillip Ely and Alec Morris, but Saban deemed it necessary to add more in this year's recruiting class. On National Signing Day, the Tide welcomed four-star Cooper Bateman, three-star Parker McLeod and preferred walk-on Luke Del Rio to the team.
That's seven quarterbacks on roster, but Saban doesn't think that's too many. Plus he can afford to be choosy.
"I think it's critical that some player that we have either in the organization or that we just recruited can develop into a potential starter for when AJ graduates," Saban said. "AJ has done a great job here for us, he provides good leadership and I'm sure he'll help with the development of these guys by the way he prepares, how he practices."
Last year McCarron threw for 2,933 yards and 30 touchdowns to only three interceptions. He's an early Heisman Trophy contender for the 2013 season. But who will be Alabama's quarterback of the future? Sims and Ely never really gave Saban the confidence that they could be the guy. Morris, who reshirted last year, might be overtaken by one of the youngsters once competition begins.
Saban took a shot at his veteran backups earlier this week.
"The way opportunities go is it doesn't happen by seniority," he said. "You probably look at it like, ‘Well, this guy's been here the longest, so he gets the most chance.' If he's been here the longest, he's already had the most chances. If he hasn't taken advantage of those opportunities, then somebody else has a turn at getting those chances."Bateman, an early enrollee, expected there to be competition at his position and isn't intimidated by it.
"When you come into a program like this, especially a top tier program like Alabama, there's going to be competition before you even get here," Bateman said. "Coming in with two other quarterbacks, honestly, doesn't change anything in my mind."
McLeod, who is roommates with Bateman, feels the same way.
"I knew it was going to be like this," he said. "I knew there was going to be competition in the class. I knew that when I committed, so I knew what I was getting myself into. I feel confident in my abilities. I'm obviously a competitor. I'm not adverse to competition. I'm going to work my hardest."
Some forecasters predict that Bateman is McCarron's heir apparent. The consensus No. 1 quarterback in the state of Utah threw for 2,384 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at Cottonwood High School in Salt Lake City.
Bateman said he's looking forward to learning under McCarron, but hasn't gotten the chance to really talk to him yet. He did, however, walk alongside the Alabama starter in the national championship parade last month.
"He's on a whole ‘nother level. He's a celebrity around here," Bateman said. "During the parade, we were walking down University and everyone, I mean everyone, is yelling his name over everything. I just asked him if he ever gets used to it. And he said, if you have the opportunity, you're going to love it. It's the best four or five years of his life."
Of the Tide's 25 signees, only seven are from Alabama. Saban explained that the allure of the SEC and the way they run their program and win championships is attracting kids from all over the country and Bateman is a perfect example as Salt Lake City is 1,848 miles from Tuscaloosa.
So why did Bateman move so far away from home to play college football?
"That's got to be the number one question," he said, smiling. "It's a ways away from home and I know that, but I think it all comes down to what I saw down here on my trip. It says a lot about Alabama that a guy from Utah is willing to come this far because he fell in love with it that much."
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