On Alabama's second day of fall camp, the quarterback questions took center stageBy James Ogletree | 08/04/2018 10:39pm
For the first time since Alabama’s thrilling national title game against Georgia ignited the quarterback controversy heard ‘round the college football world, both quarterbacks were made available to the media on Saturday morning.
Anyone searching for a definitive answer would’ve left Media Day disappointed, as head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley both remained mum on how the situation may be handled.
“For me [winning] is the most important thing,” Locksley said. “The decision will be based on who gives us the best chance to win.”
Saban rhetorically asked why there has to be a first-team and second-team quarterback at his Saturday morning press conference. That was not the first time he has said so, and it seems to signify that the door is open for both Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa to have roles on the team that are tailored to their specific skill sets.
However, it seems Saban and the coaching staff would prefer for one player to emerge as the team’s primary option under center.
“Somebody’s got to win the team over,” Saban said on the Paul Finebaum Show at SEC Media Days. “These guys [teammates] have to have the confidence that if this [quarterback] plays, he’s going to do the things that are going to help us have the best chance to be successful, because the quarterback is a distribution center of the ball.”
With respect to distributing the ball, ESPN reported on Friday that multiple offensive players grew frustrated last year with Hurts’ struggles to do so. Hurts also appeared to struggle with “locking in” on Calvin Ridley, impairing his ability to read the entire field. Let’s delve into the numbers, remembering that this data is based on receptions, not targets.
Hurts’ 255 passes were caught by 14 different receivers (one of whom was defensive lineman Daron Payne). Tagovailoa, on 77 passes – less than a third of Hurts’ total – found 15 receivers.
Ridley, now with the Atlanta Falcons, accounted for 36 percent of Hurts’ completions, but only 16 percent of Tagovailoa’s.
Additionally, Hurts’ top five targets accounted for 68 percent of his completions. Tagovailoa’s top five made up 57 percent of his completions, showing his ball distribution isn’t as top-heavy as Hurts’.
There’s no telling whether that’s enough to win the team, as there are certainly other facets of quarterback play in which Hurts excels, including composure, leadership and running ability.
It’s also important to consider the chemistry between quarterbacks and pass-catchers while reading those numbers: Hurts had two years of experience working with Ridley while Tagovailoa, a true freshman, spent more time practicing with fellow freshman wide outs. That could partially explain Hurts’ tendency to throw to Ridley.
No matter what the explanation is, with an offense composed of as much talent as Alabama has, the quarterback has to be able to find the open man and recognize that he doesn’t have to take it upon himself.
“I feel like everybody is going to have their opportunity to make plays and get the ball,” tight end Irv Smith Jr. said. “It’s all about who comes open and who the quarterback finds. We have great receivers and great tight ends to be able to make plays.”
Although Saban and Locksley weren’t bubbling over to respond to questions concerning Alabama’s quarterbacks, Hurts used his media opportunity as a platform to voice his opinion on a variety of topics that have been discussed and dissected in the media this offseason, from Saban’s comments at SEC Media Days to the way the coaching staff handled the quarterback situation in the spring.
“It’s just always been an elephant in the room,” Hurts said. “No one came up to me the whole spring, coaches included. No one asked me how I felt about the things that were going on. … I just don’t think that [coaches] were maybe bold enough to ask. I know it’s there but I don’t want to talk about it. I definitely think it’s something that should’ve been talked about a long time ago.”
As for Saban’s comment at SEC Media Days that he was unsure if Hurts would be with the team this season, Hurts bluntly relayed his side of the story.
“That was kind of taken out of proportion as well because there wasn’t a conversation,” Hurts said. “It didn’t go like that. I actually went to talk to him about his comments [from SEC Media Days] on if he didn’t know I’d be here for the first game. We had a conversation about that. I was kind of shocked that he said that. Me coming at him and seeing what was going on and all that then, I told him, and I told him in June, that I’d be here. It was never a decision that had to be made in regards to me leaving.”
“I’m about to graduate in December so why leave? Even though I’m not in a situation in which I think I should leave, I’m here. Why do that when you’re only 15 credits, 15 hours away from graduation.”
The candidness with which Hurts answered questions came as a surprise to reporters and fans alike, who have grown accustomed to the tight-lipped responses that Crimson Tide players typically give.
Since the majority of speculation enveloping Alabama’s quarterback situation has been directed at Hurts, Tagovailoa’s media session was less outspoken, and revolved around more on-the-field topics.
Teammates certainly would appreciate Tagovailoa’s answer to a question about how he’s taking his game to another level.
“My biggest thing is working on my relationship with my teammates,” Tagovailoa said. “Helping out a lot of the younger guys, getting to understand plays and how everything works around here. I think that’s going to help us better not only each other but also ourselves as teammates.”