This is the first in a six-part series looking ahead to the start of Alabama’s spring football practice. We begin with a breakdown of the quarterback position.
For the first time since 2013, there is no impending quarterback competition for fans and media to salivate over for months and months. There will be some who might try to convince you otherwise, that Jalen Hurts’ limitations in the passing game will open things up for freshmen Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones, but those arguments are nothing more than contrived controversy.
For all those who might doubt this statement, consider this. Hurts is the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year while the other two should be currently preparing for their high school proms.
That’s not to say that either Tagovailoa and Jones shouldn’t enter spring practice with the intent of earning the starting job. No competitor should ever cede. There’s also the fact that the team needs both to get up to speed as soon as possible should Hurts miss time with an injury.
But the fact is that Hurts is the starting quarterback.
Intrigue level: 3
*Intrigue level is rated on a scale of 1-5 based on competition, number of starting spots available at a respective position and growth needed for a position
It’s human nature to assign a value based on what the observer last saw. The fact is that Hurts struggled throwing the ball towards the end of the season. Over his last three games, Hurts averaged completing 47.7 percent of his passes for just 108.7 yards and less than a touchdown a game. It’s just as much a fact that the last time Hurts touched a football during a game he scored a go-ahead touchdown in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Therein lies the rub with Hurts. He kept his team in every game and won all but one despite his lack of consistency throwing the football. That remains his biggest growth measurement this spring and into fall camp: How well has he improved throwing the football? Enter new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who will be charged and measured largely on how well Hurts progresses. It’s the third voice in Hurts’ ears since he took over the starting job. The talented sophomore to be has all the tools. The question remains can he put all of them to use for Alabama’s offense in 2017?
Tagovailoa came to Tuscaloosa with much hype, none by his design. That’s nothing foreign for a lot of Alabama players, who are usually the best players in the country and garner a large spotlight. The Elite 11 star quarterback from Hawaii possesses uncanny maturity for his age, a trait that served Hurts well in his freshman campaign a season ago. He’s a left-hander, which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but there are things, such as the rotation of the ball and the pass protection, that need to be adjusted to if he gets into a game. Jones was less heralded in his arrival, but quietly behind the scenes he’s earned positive reviews in his short time on campus. He’ll need to add weight and strength (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) before he has a realistic chance to see the field, much the same challenge as AJ McCarron faced when he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2009.
Hurts is the starting quarterback. But he has much to prove entering spring. Every offense strives for balance and at the end of last season it was clear Alabama’s didn’t have it. That’s on Hurts to improve upon this spring, summer and into fall camp. He lost his favorite target in ArDarius Stewart but Calvin Ridley returns and should be a valuable asset. Alabama doesn’t need a dynamic passer for its offense to click. It just needs consistency which will provide balance which will open up the entire offense. Just as important is for the freshmen to pick things up quickly, something that became more important when Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell transferred to other schools. Hurts being a dual-threat quarterback means that Tagovailoa and Jones could be one play away from having to take over the offense.
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.