TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The questions around town and campus come at Phillip Sims like a relentless defensive end -- one he doesn’t try to dodge.

Which quarterback will take the reins for potential national title contender Alabama this season? Sims, or AJ McCarron?

"People are going to ask you questions about it no matter where you are," said Sims, a redshirt freshman. "I think running from it is only going to make things worse. Just face it. It's a competition and everybody wants to know what's going on."

That hasn’t changed since Greg McElroy played his final down for the Crimson Tide. While it’s the most persistent question facing the national title hopefuls, neither the coaches, the other players nor the two contenders seems to be sweating it too much.

Its a competition and everybody wants to know whats going on.
-- Alabama QB Phillip Sims

"I’ve been really happy with how both have grasped the things we ask them to do," offensive coordinator Jim McElwain said. "I wouldn’t say one has one thing more than another. They both fit really well in the system we’re putting in to use their abilities."

And if the fans’ questions haven't gone away, both McElwain and the players have been shielded from speaking before cameras or tape recorders. Sunday’s media day is the only time McElwain -- or any other assistant -- is scheduled to speak to reporters annually. Sims and McCarron had been off-limits since last season, too.

What became clear after they did talk? They’re friends. They’re both confident in each other and themselves. And there’s not a huge difference in styles.

McCarron, a third-year sophomore, has been on campus a few months longer, while Sims enrolled in January. Unlike Sims, he has logged a few snaps, including a desperation drive in the final seconds of a loss to Auburn.

How does McCarron avoid the subject? "I try not to get interviewed a lot."

"It comes with the position," he said. "Especially at Alabama, everybody wants to know who the quarterback is at all times. Me and Phillip, we know what's going on, and we don’t let any of that bother us. We’re out every day pushing each other to get better. We’re friends. It's not a rivalry at all. We’re not enemies. We don’t let that stuff get to us."

"Everybody blows it up to make it like a rivalry, like we hate each other. Me and him just laugh it off. It's nothing like that. We both know that we’re very good quarterbacks, and we’re both confident in our play."

Saban has indicated they’re running even and that both could play early in the season.

"I think both guys have done a really, really good job. They’ve worked hard," he said. "They are both the kind of guys who spend a lot of time trying to learn what they need to do. They enjoy that part of the game. Gym rats, if you want to call them that. Both guys do a good job of affecting their teammates. Basically the team was doing 7-on-7 all summer three days a week."

"Coaches can’t supervise that. They have to do that completely on their own. The quarterbacks basically manage it for the entire offense. Those guys did an outstanding job. So I’m pleased with both guys. It would make it a little easier to make a determination if both guys weren't doing things in a very positive way."

Both were heavily recruited. A couple of recruiting  services rated Sims the nation’s top quarterback prospect two years ago after he led Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Va., to a 48-4 record as a four-year starter.

McCarron threw 66 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions in three seasons at Saint Paul’s Episcopal in Mobile, Ala., and won a state title.

He quickly passed once-prized recruit Star Jackson -- who later transferred -- in his redshirt year and would have been McElroy’s replacement if he'd been hurt in the national title game.

McElwain said both have strong arms and quick releases, and that the key intangible is which one is less likely to throw interceptions. McElroy threw only 10 in 658 passes.

McCarron did attempt 48 passes last season without an interception. He’s not sure how much difference that playing time will make in the ongoing competition.

"You don’t really need game experience that much," he said. "I think it helps, but if you can play the game, play the game. It’s going to cut down on mistakes a little. But coach teaches us well enough that we know how to take care of the ball, and that’s what you've got to do. Especially with this defense we’ve got."