A year ago, Nick Saban was still hoping a quarterback would grab hold of his team. He gave the bull-by-the-horns talk again.
No longer is that a question with Jalen Hurts entering his second season as the first incumbent Alabama quarterback since AJ McCarron in 2013.
The question now relates to the backups. After three transfers during and after last season, the Tide has two true freshmen behind the sophomore Hurts. Saban shared his thoughts on the rookies — Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones — after Saturday’s second scrimmage of the preseason.
"I think Tua has really progressed nicely," Saban said. "He had a good day today. Probably had a few more opportunities, made a couple of explosive plays. He’s making very good progress. I think Mac is doing the same."
Tagovailoa arrived in January with considerable hype as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. The buzz continued after throwing for 313 yards on 17-of-29 passing in the A-Day game.
Jones saw fewer reps in the spring game (5-for-11, 45 yards) in the spring game and it’s clear where the hierarchy remains.
"We have to sort of say ‘OK, who are we going to get ready to play here?’" Saban said. "We have the first quarterback, Jalen, then we have a guy that we have ready to play as a backup. Then we have to bring Mac along the best we can. He’s made good progress. He had some opportunities today and didn’t do a bad job."
As a whole, Saban said the offense was improved over the performance in the first scrimmage. A few issues remain two weeks before facing No. 3 Florida State in the season opener. They had a few sustained drives that stalled in the red zone or resulted in turnovers.
Still, Saban likes how Hurts has improved his passing after hitting rough patches last season. There’s more confidence in Year 2.
"I think his ability to scramble is still a tremendous asset for him," Saban said. "I think he’s learned how to use that a little bit better and be an effective passer. I think systematically we’re better in that regard. I think that when people look at passing efficiency, it’s about 11 people, not about one, not just about the quarterback. You have to protect, you have to run routes the right way.
"There’s a lot of chemistry between the route runners and the quarterback, the timing, decision making, accuracy, a lot of things that involve a lot of people. Jalen has certainly improved in that regard. I think our entire teams needs to improve relative to that as well."
Hurts’ 191 rushing attempts was a team high ahead of Damien Harris’ 146. In terms of quarterback rating, Hurts finished the season ranked 44th nationally while completing 62.8 percent of his passes.
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