AJ McCarron’s Pro Day was still about him proving himself

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Photo by Jonathan Biles

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The last pool press conference with AJ McCarron felt the same as the others.

Sweaty and smushed together with 15 writers and 10 television reporters, some holding a camera in one hand and a microphone in the other, making sure the sound of clichés and Saban speak was caught on tape, the recently gelled quarterback said he came out on Alabama’s Pro Day to prove people wrong.

“I’ve been hearing everything about arm strength and deep outs and comebacks,” McCarron said. “I feel like I should silence all that. I threw it deep early on in the workout and I threw it deep later on so it was a good day.”

The idea of a collegiate “Pro Day” is for NFL scouts and coaches to come to a particular school and observe as draft-eligible collegians participate in structured workouts, in structured environs. Though the vast majority of these NFL personnel saw the exact same players compete in the exact same workouts at the NFL Combine almost a month ago, the Pro Day is ubiquitous in the scouting process. And seeing that Alabama has had its fair share of success in the past seven or so years, the Pro Day is a celebrity sighting contest of NFL personnel: A collection that included head coaches Chip Kelly, Sean Peyton and Marvin Lewis, along with coordinators Joe Vitt and Norv Turner. New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan also made a triumphant appearance.

For the NFL employees in attendance, this exercise was an extension of a lengthy job interview. For Alabama coach Nick Saban, Pro Day is a business transaction as well as a somber goodbye; the final step in his Process of molding a feeble football child into a money-making football man.

“We feel like when it comes to development of players to play football, a lot of guys really want the opportunity to play in the National Football League,” Saban said. “To get this interest and representation from the league to give our players an opportunity is certainly what we would like for each one of our players to have.

“This is an exciting day and it’s a sad day in a way because you have such great relationships with all these players and you hate to see them leave.”

One of Saban’s most prized success stories is McCarron, who, when given time to throw, can make any and every pass asked of him. The lacking arm strength trope is silly, and apparently his hands are a nice size.

McCarron didn’t run the 40-yard dash at Alabama’s Pro Day, nor did he compete in any of the workouts besides throwing. But throwing is all that really matters anymore. McCarron ran a 4.94 official 40-yard dash at the Combine, but that doesn’t matter. He probably won’t run for more than 40 yards total in his rookie season in the NFL. He isn’t Johnny Manziel. He isn’t that type of quarterback, and neither is Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. But after not participating in the Senior Bowl in his hometown of Mobile,  Ala., McCarron needed to do a little proving of himself at the Combine. And choosing to throw at the Combine isn’t necessarily about being accurate – which McCarron was – it’s showing up and proving that you can perform on the biggest stage, in front of hundreds of potential employers.

He performed well at the Combine, and performed well again at Alabama’s Pro Day. Throwing as many as 70 passes (his estimation), McCarron was hitting his receivers. After warming up for what seemed like two hours, he threw every type of pass imaginable to Kenny Bell, former Alabama receiver Marquis Maze and Mr. Reliable Kevin Norwood, who apparently compared himself to a snake at the Combine when asked what animal he most resembled. After throwing deep routes, fade routes, screens and on the run, the only play he didn’t run was the flea-flicker, but NFL teams should have plenty of those on tape.

And speaking of Norwood, he might possibly be the only person who can get away with calling McCarron a “game manager.”

“He’s a game manager. He gets us in and out of the huddle quickly and calls the plays when we need it,” Norwood said. “He’s great at getting us where we need to be and it’s up to those receivers to get open for him.”

McCarron wears chips on his shoulders like they’re woven into his pads, and never shies away from telling people he feels disrespected. The “game manager” moniker is a curse amongst Alabama quarterbacks who, quite honestly, are game managers. And I still haven’t grasped why that’s a bad thing. Fewer responsibilities, lots of handoffs, great defenses, and national titles all sound great to me. But McCarron, once drafted, will strive to prove he is more than just a screen-pass jockey.

“All the talk [at the Combine] was about my arm strength but that’s just people talking that don’t know,” McCarron said. “I needed to work on my mechanics and I did. I had time to work on myself and my personal game and master my craft.”

McCarron is projected by many draft experts to be selected in the second to third round, but anything besides the No. 1 pick would be unacceptable for the highly self-confident quarterback. McCarron’s last press conference went exactly as they all have: terse, self-confident and probably beautiful to Saban.

“The rest of those guys feel like they’re the best,” McCarron said, about the other quarterbacks in the draft. “It’s a mind-set you have to carry in yourself. I feel like my play speaks for itself over the three years I started in the SEC. I definitely do.”

Saban’s Processing of McCarron is complete, now it’s on to the next pupil.

This column also appeared on CSS

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