Nick Saban’s first news conference of the spring was heavy on the news, although most of the focus was one digit on one player’s hand.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the second-half hero of Alabama’s College Football Playoff championship win against Georgia, hurt his thumb — Saban did not specify how, although quarterbacks can sometimes hit their hands on a teammate’s helmet, among other possibilities.
In what the head coach termed as a “precautionary” move, Tagovailoa was sent to Birmingham, home of the Crimson Tide’s orthopedic team headed by Dr. Lyle Cain. There was no immediate diagnosis other than Saban’s comment that it would “probably take some time.” That might indicate a certain level of severity, or it might just mean Alabama isn’t playing LSU this Saturday, so there is no need to rush things along. On the other hand, it may mean missing all of spring training. There should be some word from doctors in the near future.
Aside from provoking a collective gasp from the Alabama fan base, there was also a palpable change in the questions about the quarterback race between Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, questions that have been debate fodder since last fall, not just January.
There was no need to ask who was getting more practice reps, after all, if Hurts was practicing and Tagovailoa was not. Still, Saban was ready to shoot down any sort of speculation, even if it turned out to be a pre-emptive strike in his part.
“I know that every time I stand up here, you all are going to try to make something out of it that it isn’t,” Saban said, addressing the media from the podium but projecting his voice, perhaps, to the entire state. “It’s two good players that both can contribute to our team and we are going to give them both an opportunity to do that. They’ve been great with each other, they’ve been great for each other. They’ve both shown leadership to our team. They’re both important to our team.
“I know y’all want me to make something up that really isn’t there so you can make a big deal out of this, but it’s a competition just like it is at every other position.”
Saban stopped after that, but not before giving the podium a sound drumming for a few seconds.
At some point, Tagovailoa will be back. He may return by the time Saban has his next Tuesday press conference, and if he comes back, so will the same questions. But Saban seemed to be giving a pretty clear indication that no matter how often he is asked, and how cleverly the questions are phrased, his patience will be short.
He rankled at another question later in the press conference regarding transfers, one that may have been a sort of stealth-bomber approach to the quarterback issue and the possibility that whoever isn’t eventually named the starter might consider other options. If it wasn’t mean that way, Saban took it that way nonetheless.
The fact is, there isn’t going to be a definite answer from the top about any position battle, least of all at quarterback, even after A-Day is concluded. For the 12th consecutive spring, the press corps received an admonishment for asking about “a depth chart.” (No one actually asked.)
The questions will continue, though, as will the vigil about the most talked-about thumb in Alabama since the Crimson Tide won its fifth national title under Saban — one for the thumb, you know — a couple of months ago.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.