If the adage about the most popular player on the Alabama football team in any given year being the backup quarterback is true, then: Mac Jones, prepare to meet the world.
Now, slam on the brakes immediately before the analysis of this column goes one inch further. No one, not any human in his or her right mind, even if they sat hatless on aluminum bleachers at Saturday’s scrimmage and roasted their brain like an avocado, advocates Jones replace the incumbent Tua Tagovailoa. But Nick Saban made it clear in his post-scrimmage remarks that Jones was the clear-cut backup.
“Mac is way ahead of the other guys,” Saban said. “He’s been here in the program for a couple of years. He knows the offense. He’s really smart. He makes good decisions for the most part. The big thing we’ve been trying to get him to do is when he doesn’t make a good play, don’t hang on to it. Go to the next play. He’s done a good job of that.
“He’s been very productive in both scrimmages that we’ve had. He got some opportunities today. He got some (last scrimmage). We’re happy with Tua’s performance to this point.
“I think, offensively, we’re good.”
Setting aside the calculus necessary to measure the amplitude of the terror waves that spread across the Southeast from the quasar explosion of Saban saying “offensively, we’re good,” here’s a quick explanation.
Mac (it’s “Mac,” as in “Mac-and-cheese,” although my spell check is doggedly hanging on to “Mack,” as in Wilson or Tevin) Jones has pulled ahead of freshman Taulia Tagovailoa and Paul Tyson for the second-team role for all the reasons Saban cited.
Also, as the time until the season opener grows closer, there becomes more urgency in giving the first- and second-team reps to the players likeliest to see action. Thus, by the time a final scrimmage rolls around, there is an understandable self-perpetuating cycle. If you’re working with the first and second offense, and you don’t make egregious mistakes, you’ve got a chance to look better than those working primarily with the 3’s (third team) against the 3’s. That isn’t to imply that Jones’ performance is an illusion, just that he has capitalized on opportunity.
So how will that opportunity manifest itself in the 2019 season? There is, of course, the “one play away” scenario that no one wants to see. There is also the recent history of last season, when Alabama got off to big early leads in many games. Whether Jones will see the sort of backup time Jalen Hurts saw last year is going to depend on many week-to-week variables, although he seems sure to get at least some duty with a mop. Isn’t that what “mopping up” requires?
There is also a human tendency (not one Saban especially likes) to project into the future. Assuming, as all of America does, that Tua goes pro after this season, the first questions about 2020 are going to center around the next quarterback, Jones or someone else. So people are going to watch for clues.
No one, to answer John Lennon’s question, is saying they want a revolution. Right now, backup quarterback is an interesting sidebar, one storyline out of 25 or 30. But hearing Saban say good things about Jones is going to pique the appetite for a glimpse, at the least.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225