As monotonous as it may be, it’s hard to argue against Alabama’s well-run machine. After all, the Tide’s dedication to routine and “the process” has propelled it to four national championships over the past eight years. However, as the Tide aims for its fourth straight appearance in the College Football Playoff, it’s what is missing this off season that has players excited.
For the first time since 2013 Alabama begins its preseason without a quarterback battle. Instead, the Tide breaks camp with quite the opposite, returning the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year in Jalen Hurts.
“It’s different,” junior offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher said. “I think this is the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve haven’t had a quarterback battle. Just the offense takes advantage of that, just knowing that we have a guy back there we can trust who’s been through that is going to help us out and propel our offense forward.”
Hurts returns for his sophomore season after becoming the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Alabama since 1984. Admittedly, he's at a completely different place mentally than he was at this time a year ago.
"Like I said, last year, it was different situations,” Hurts said. “No experience, nothing like that, fighting for my job. Now it's just I have to lead the team, I have to lead the way. And, I'll use it again, improve. We have to improve, continue to improve as a team so we can be where we want to be."
Despite breaking Alabama’s single season touchdown record with a combined 36 scores last season, much has been said about Hurts’ need to improve as a passer this season. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound quarterback threw for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns with nine interceptions last season but failed to maintain consistency, especially in the downfield passing game.
Saban said the goal this off season was to improve Hurts’ ability to be a more efficient and effective passer while allowing him to be more comfortable in the pocket. After an impressive performance in spring camp, that looks to be a success.
“I think he’s made tremendous strides in the spring,” Saban said. “We’re not allowed to watch a lot of what they do over the summer, but based on his confidence, the poise that he played with out there in practice today, I think there has been a lot of improvement in his knowledge and understanding and confidence. His leadership, his presence, all those things I think have a real positive impact on the offensive team and the offensive players. I think he’s really improved as a passer.”
Thursday’s viewing period only allowed reporters to catch a glimpse of Hurts’ passing ability, as he tossed quick, intermediate routes to receivers. However, his status as a leader can’t be missed.
“He’s taken this as his team,” Pierschbacher said. “I think as a quarterback he should. The offense really respects that. We’ve got a lot of leaders on offense, but Jalen is going to run the show, he’s the quarterback.”
A coach's son, Hurts admits some of his leadership ability comes naturally. Although that doesn’t mean he takes his role for granted. Just as he worked last season to earn his spot as the starter, Hurts knows he must now continue to develop trust and inspire belief amongst his teammates.
“People lead because they let you lead,” Hurts said. “Just because I walk in and say I want to do this don't mean I'm going to do it. It happens over time, respect and what you do on the field. My peers respect me and we just want to improve every day.”
That improvement will continue over the next month, as No. 1 Alabama gears up for its season opener against No. 3 Florida State on Sept. 2 inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Until then, it’s back to business.
“One day at a time,” Hurts said. “We just finished Day 1, you know, so we'll watch the film and take care of that. Just one day at a time."
Some things never change.
Read more at BamaInsider.com.