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Like predecessor McElroy, McCarron has been overshadowed by a star tailback (first, Mark Ingram, now Richardson) and a defense stocked with stars and NFL prospects. The quarterback’s role at Alabama has often been as a game manager first, then a playmaker.

But make no mistake. McCarron is proud of the Tide’s offense.

“That’s all we ever hear about is our defense, but we know we’ve got one of the best offenses in the country,” he said. “We led the SEC in a bunch of categories the whole year. When you’ve got a great defense like we’ve got, your offense gets overlooked. That’s what we like. We kind of fly under the radar and we’re able to do some things that surprise people. It doesn’t surprise us because we do it all the time.”

McCarron wasn’t horrible in the first game with LSU. He posted a solid 16-of-28, 199-yard performance but also was intercepted by All-America cornerback Morris Claiborne.

“(Clairborne’s) one of the best cornerbacks in the country. He’ll be one of the top picks coming out in the draft,” McCarron said. “The guy just made a good play. I could have done some things to prevent it, probably, but whenever I make a mistake, I let it go right then. But when I sit down at dinner (with family) and talk about it, it eats at me. I feel like throughout my whole career of football, I’ve done a pretty good job of taking care of the ball.”

His Alabama career has been an adventure already.

Last season, he threw deep into coverage in mop-up duty against Mississippi State, prompting Saban to walk on the field after the series for a heated scolding. Then he swatted his backside. The scene has drawn nearly 90,000 views on YouTube.

McCarron showed his own feisty side against Florida this year when he chased after 282-pound Gators defensive end Dominique Easley following a late hit.

“I was like, `OK, pal. He’s a lot bigger than you,’” Tide left tackle Barrett Jones said. Then there’s his celebration, which Jones says consists of waving “his arms around wildly. There’s no pattern.”

At the same time, teammates say they like McCarron’s intensity.

“AJ’s a passionate guy,” Jones said. “That’s what we love about him. He’s fearless. He doesn’t back down from big situations. For a young, first-year quarterback, I’m really impressed by him. You can see it in his eyes. He’s a natural leader.”