There’s so much attention on the quarterback position at the University of Alabama — not just in this spring practice for the Crimson Tide, but constantly — that Nick Saban is inevitably asked about the performance of the three young players at that position.
That includes Jalen Hurts, who has 14 starts under his belt but remains a true sophomore, not yet two years removed from high school football. The other two quarterbacks on scholarship — Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones — are utterly green. There are no more — and Nick Saban isn’t taking chances with the ones he has.
It’s impossible to develop a quarterback completely with absolutely no contact, trusting that he’ll be able to hang on to the football if the first college hits he takes come from a salty Florida State defense. You also can’t put the quarterbacks entirely in bubble wrap and have them lumber around like the Michelin Man. That’s doubly true when you consider that Hurts’ running ability — and presumably Tagovailoa’s, although we haven’t seen that yet — has to factor into next season as one of Alabama’s offensive assets.
Still, Saban is handling the transition into contact gently.
“One of the things that we do, if the quarterback is going to run the ball, we put him in some …. turnover drills before practice,” Saban said on Tuesday. “Drills that are basically tackle-and-strip drills, we’ll put the quarterbacks in those drills. So, in a controlled situation they’re getting hit, the ball is getting stripped. Certainly, ball security is something. If we’re going to run the quarterbacks, (that) has got to be an important thing for them.”
Still, Saban isn’t going to run any more risk than is absolutely necessary.
“I don’t think it’s worth getting a guy hurt in practice trying to prove the point that we’re going to make them a little tougher, especially at the quarterback position,” he said. “We try to do it with some controlled drills so that they do get hit. We really have limited the quarterback runs in the spring. We are really focused on trying to develop a better passing game.”
Saban has mentioned a better passing game so many times, in so many contexts, this spring. Even in last week’s “rant” about “ball control offense,” he dropped in a reference to “not hitting open receivers” in last January’s College Football Playoff loss to Clemson. He did the same thing on Tuesday in response to a question about the staff’s new offensive analysts.
“I think those two guys (Chris Weinke and Dan Werner), having coached in high school and college, certainly helps a guy that’s coached in the NFL to be able to balance some of the things that will help us have a well-rounded, pro-style offense,” Saban said. “We want that (with) an offense that has the college elements that helps you take advantage of some of the college rules.”
That sounds enticing, even though the uncertain nature of how that will take shape is part of the attraction.
So will the quarterbacks run as frequently as Hurts did last year as part of the overall offensive design? Will it depend on Hurts improving his accuracy as a passer? Will there be less “called” runs, or is that a diversion? That may be the biggest mystery of the spring — even though Saban has already indicated that there will be no answer until the fall.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.