Nearly a year ago to the day, Alabama was in the enviable position of having two quarterbacks combine to throw for 614 yards and five touchdowns in the annual A-Day spring game.
Saturday, Alabama has a quarterback whose father went on the record this week to say his son would transfer if he didn’t win the starting quarterback position, while the other signal caller is nursing a broken throwing hand that has derailed his spring.
One is Jalen Hurts, the other is Tua Tagovailoa. One is a former SEC Offensive Player of the Year and is 26-2 as a starter. The other is the guy who came in during the second half to lead the Crimson Tide from a 13-point to deficit to an overtime win in the national championship game.
A-Day Spring Game
When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium
Nick Saban is a master of a psychology, at least from a competitive standpoint and how it translates to his football team. But even he is struggling to contain the seemingly all-encompassing black hole that is the starting quarterback competition at Alabama.
Saban’s done his best, using every trick he knows. He’s attempted to intimidate reporters into not asking questions about the competition. He’s sent messages to both players through the media during his press conferences. All of this in an attempt to keep both players’ heads right as spring practice officially kicked off the competition.
“(Tua) and Jalen were splitting reps and we’re giving both guys an opportunity to see how they compete and how they do,” Saban said early during the spring. “We don’t have any decisions, aren’t speculating on any decisions, just going to be fair and honest on how we give each player a chance to compete.”
“Both of those guys have been great. I know every time I stand up here you guys are going to make something out of it that it isn’t. It’s two good players. Both can contribute to our team and we’re going to give them an opportunity to do that. They’ve been great with each other, they’ve been great for each other, they’ve both shown leadership for our team. They’re both important to our team.
“I don’t really have anything to say. I know y’all want us to make something out that really isn’t there so you can make a big deal out of this. It’s competition just like at every other position.”
Today was to be a showcase in the competition, a chance for fans to watch and judge both quarterbacks. How much had Hurts grown as a passer this spring under the tutelage of new quarterbacks coach Dan Enos? Had Tagovailoa gained the experience to make fewer mistakes than he did a season ago?
But that’s not going to happen due to Tagovailoa’s injury. On Saturday it will be Hurts, redshirt freshman Mac Jones and walk-on quarterbacks.
Tagovailoa’s injury during the first week of spring practice threw a wrench into everything. His broken left hand has curtailed his repetitions and increased Hurts’, at least with the first-team offense.
Then came Thursday when Hurts’ father, Averion Hurts, was quoted in a Bleacher Report article saying his son wants to play quarterback and if he didn’t he would be the “biggest free agent in college football history.”
That not-so-veiled threat was the talk of the state leading up to Saturday’s spring game.
“Coach Saban’s job is to do what’s best for his team,” Averion Hurts said to bleacherreport.com. “I have no problem with that. My job is to do what’s best for Jalen — and make no mistake, Jalen is a quarterback, and he wants to play quarterback. He loves Alabama, loves Coach Saban and everything about that place. But he wants to play, and he will play.”
Hurts’ limitations as a passer isn’t particularly a guarded secret. It’s possibly the most discussed aspect of his game perhaps behind only his maturity and running ability. The lack of consistency in the passing game is what got him pulled at halftime of the national championship game, Saban said at the time. It’s what’s being watched closely this spring. Following last Saturday’s second scrimmage, Saban sent his own message to Hurts.
“You know, Jalen has had a really good spring from the standpoint that we’ve really tried to focus on continuing to help him develop confidence in the passing game,” Saban said. “He is showing signs of being able to do that, and we want to continue to work on that. He has done a really good job. I think sometimes, you can’t just think about making plays. You have to sort of make plays based on how they’re designed and have some faith, trust and confidence in the people that are playing with you, that if you go through your progression, that’s going to give us the best chance to be able to make some explosive plays in the passing game. When it breaks down, then you use your athletic ability to try to make up for it. I think he’s done much better at that this spring.”
In other words, Saban told Hurts to stop running out of the pocket if the first read isn’t open.
Just before spring began, Saban openly discussed the idea of playing two quarterbacks, a notion that’s difficult to comprehend given the veteran head coach’s history. But it could work. In 2006, Florida won a national title playing Chris Leak and Tim Tebow.
Would Saban be open to using the skill sets of both quarterbacks to play both during a game? Or is this an attempt to keep one from transferring? Alabama has just three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster and without a graduate transfer over the summer, it will stay that way into the fall. Given Averion Hurts’ comments, his son will transfer if he’s not the quarterback, so the prospect of being down to two scholarship quarterbacks during season can’t be appealing to Saban.
Neither guy was made available to the media this spring, so the fans are left to read between the lines of Saban’s and Averion Hurts’ remarks. There were also comments from their teammates, but, as any good teammate would do, they all spoke highly of both quarterbacks, particularly the beleaguered Hurts.
“I can’t tell you what he’s feeling,” left tackle Jonah Williams said. “But I think that he definitely appears like he’s very confident.”
Senior tight end Hale Hentges defended his quarterback against people who “don’t really know what’s going on.”
“He’s making great reads, he’s making great throws, overall he’s making less poor decisions in the backfield,” Hentges said.
Saban said he met with Averion Hurts last Saturday. The conversation, private in nature Saban said, was encouraging.
“In our conversation, I was very positive and upbeat,” Saban said. “Jalen has done a great job. He’s made a significant amount of improvement. His dad was very positive.
“At the end of the day, everybody has career decisions that they have to make. Nobody knows what the outcome of this situation will bring. We don’t want any player not to be able to fill their goals and aspirations in our program here. We don’t want that for any of our players. Jalen’s dad has always been very positive and supportive in every conversation that I had.”
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.