Tide’s Wilson trying to end on upswing

Published 3:58 pm Saturday, August 23, 2008

TUSCALOOSA – Two snapshots from last season summarize John Parker Wilson’s up-and-down Alabama career fairly well.

Against Tennessee, his every pass seemed to find an open man and the Crimson Tide rolled to an easy win. Then there was Mississippi State, and an ill-advised throw that the Bulldogs returned 100 yards for a touchdown to end the first half and spark an upset.

Wilson will almost certainly leave with most of No. 24 Alabama’s career passing records, but which legacy will mark his passing: The prolific, record-setting passer or the guy who too often makes unwise decisions?

“His numbers will show through this year,” predicts receiver Mike McCoy. “I expect him to have a great year.”

“I think this year’s going to be his year,” adds center Antoine Caldwell. “He’s been through a lot; it’s been kind of an up and down career for him. I think this year he’s really going to have a breakout season and I look forward to watching it.”

Wilson will leave the bold predictions for his senior season to his teammates.

He does say he feels as comfortable as he ever has with the offense implemented by Jim McElwain, the third coordinator of his career.

And there is the experience factor. Wilson has started 26 career games and has posted the top two single-season passing marks in school history. His 5,689 yards is only 731 shy of Brodie Croyle’s career record.

Wilson knows he can give fans more enduring memories than that pass against Mississippi State and even the 363-yard, three-touchdown game against Tennessee.

“I’ve got one year left, and I’m doing everything I can to finish out on the right note,” he said. “Your last year is what people are going to remember, and I’m planning on making some good memories.”

Tide coach Nick Saban said he thinks Wilson restored his confidence with a strong performance in the Independence Bowl win over Colorado after the team struggled late in the regular season. He said his quarterback has been more “businesslike and mature” in his offseason approach and decision-making.

Wilson could actually benefit under McElwain from having had to learn three systems during his career, Saban said.

“I think it probably didn’t help him much when he had to do it,” Saban said. “Now that he’s done it, I think it’s helped him tremendously. His capacity to learn and make adjustments has probably been enhanced by all that stuff. He’s adapted extremely well to our current coordinator. Him and Mack have a good relationship. I think Mack’s helped him. I think he can have an outstanding year if he can just stay on task here.”

Saban and Tide players have described McElwain’s system as more quarterback friendly, not requiring quite so many options to process in a few seconds each play.

One of McElwain’s priorities was to “rip out the rear-view mirror.” In other words, don’t let Wilson stew over mistakes or celebrate big plays too long.

“I think some of the things he’s gone through, it’s part of the position,” McElwain said. “I don’t think they’re all deserved. This is a great kid, somebody who cares about the state of Alabama, somebody who really cares about Alabama football. And a guy that is doing everything he can to help us win games.”

Alabama’s season opens Aug. 30 against Clemson in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

McCoy, who is Wilson’s most familiar target, said he doesn’t expect his quarterback to have to shake off a lot of bad plays this season.

“I don’t think you’ll see too many mistakes this year because he’s more focused and confident,” McCoy said. “This offense is really kind of molded around him. He’s the leader on the field. If we’re going to win, we’re going to win with him.”