The game slowed down for Jalen Hurts.
It was the first practice of spring and coming off the field Hurts hadn’t fully realized what he’d done. That’s when an analyst approached the Alabama quarterback and said it looked like the game was coming slower to the sophomore-to-be signal caller.
“After practice he told me, he said ‘The game looks slower to you.’ And I was like ‘Yeah. You saw me make a check and just do things we haven’t covered yet, haven’t got to,’” Hurts said. “It’s just instinctive stuff I did and he noticed that. He said ‘It slowed down’ and I was like ‘I guess it did.’”
If that’s the case, if the game has slowed down for Hurts, that’s a major sign that the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year is poised to take a step forward in 2017.
Of the items UA head coach Nick Saban said he wanted to see growth in from Hurts, nearly all were mental parts of the game.
“I think decision-making, getting the ball out of his hand more quickly, not looking at the rush, not drifting in the pocket, reading and having his eyes in the right place relative to the coverage and read that particular play has,” Saban said. “I think those are the things that are fundamentally what we’re trying to get him to improve on and I think he’s doing a much better job in that regard.
“He still has the ability to run and make plays with his feet, but that’s not what we want to focus on right now. I think he’s kind of bought into that and done a really good job with it.”
Of those things, all are at least partially mental, aspects of the game that can take longer to get comfortable with than some others. The game slowing down to Hurts would help in all those regards.
Even junior safety Ronnie Harrison noticed Hurts’ growth.
“I remember when he first got here, he was a freshman, his first couple of practices I picked him off a couple of times,” Harrison said. “Now it’s kind of like I can tell he’s reading me. He’s learning defenses and learning how to read better.
“One play in practice…it was a safety read and he was reading me to see if I was coming down in coverage or if I was going to stay high. I kind of tried to hold it but I couldn’t and came down and he faked the ball and then he threw it to the receiver right over my head. I was like, ‘Dang, he’s really coming along.’”
Getting to work
That process began Jan. 10, the day after the heartbreaking loss to Clemson in the national championship game. A quick inventory was taken of what was good and what needed work. It was that quick. It was that simple.
“Saban got in touch with me and was like ‘OK, this is what we need to improve on,’” Hurts said. “And we’ve been working on it ever since the tenth of January.”
Of course there is a third offensive coordinator to work with and build a relationship with for Hurts. Brian Daboll is the third voice in his ear, joining former offensive coordinators Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian.
That’s not ideal, but Hurts has made it work.
Handling a new OC
“It’s been an adventure, I guess,” Hurts said. “It’s a lot. But I think that a lot of things can be thrown at you and you have to be able to respond to certain situations. Like in my first interview, I’ll say it again: it’s the process.
“We gelled really quick. I think he came by to visit one day, and came straight up to me and we talked, and he was just kind of telling me what his intentions were, how he did things. Kind of told me his history and what he’s done, so I think we’ve built a really good relationship in a short time.”
One thing Hurts appreciates is the constant feedback Daboll delivers. That quality is visible even from the short media viewing window at practice. Daboll in constantly giving feedback to his three scholarship quarterbacks.
“I think as a player, you like to hear that,” Hurts said. “You like to hear what you’re doing good, you like to hear what you’re doing bad. He’s doing a great job so far, and I’m looking forward to what he brings.”
Reach Aaron Suttles at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.