Jalen Hurts can only control so much when it comes to Alabama’s quarterback competition. He can’t dictate how Tua Tagovailoa, when healthy, will perform in practices. He can’t crawl inside Nick Saban’s mind and guarantee that the coach will choose him to lead the Crimson Tide against Louisville on Sept. 1.
But Hurts can do one major thing to help his chances to remain Alabama’s starter this year: void all public chatter, on Twitter or elsewhere, about what people think about him and his future with the Crimson Tide.
Go hiking. Pull the plug on all devices. Grab a book or magazine, preferably about something other than college football.
Do anything — anything at all — to avoid the Twitter trolls and so-called experts who think they know how Alabama’s quarterback competition will unfold.
Look, Hurts has nothing to gain from wading in the Twitter “negativity cesspool,” as Alabama tackle Jonah Williams labeled it in a piece by the Montgomery Advertiser’s Duane Rankin on Saturday. Doing so will mess with Hurts’ mind. It could affect his performance. At the least, it would add unnecessary psychological pressure during this critical time.
Hurts doesn’t need the added burden of public negativity. He has plenty else to do after a less-than-stellar outing during Alabama’s spring game Saturday, when he completed 19 of 37 passes for 195 yards with 1 interception.
That showing shouldn’t affect his standing in Alabama’s quarterback competition in a seismic way. But recent days after Bleacher Report’s Matt Hayes published eye-opening comments from Hurts’ father about the player’s future with the Crimson Tide have revealed some are quick to criticize the player who has gone 26-2 as Alabama’s starter in two seasons. To this faction, the Crimson Tide’s quarterback competition already has been decided.
Hurts can’t do much to win over that group. But Saban’s eyes are the ones that matter most, and those remain open.
Hurts must do everything he can to place himself in the best position mentally to impress.
His situation isn’t unique. With social media’s rise, fans are closer to their teams than ever. The boundary between fan and player is small, especially if athletes allow public sentiment to enter their eyes via Twitter or Instagram or even by watching television or listening to sports-talk radio.
There aren’t many walls available unless players construct those protections themselves. Hurts must do so now if he wants to remain Alabama’s starting quarterback.
The good side of the current social media landscape is that athletes can market themselves while shaping their public image for personal gain. The bad side is that, like in Hurts’ case, negative fan perception can become overbearing and overwhelm.
At this point, Hurts has nothing to gain by absorbing what anyone says about him on Twitter or elsewhere. That’s why he should do everything to make Alabama’s quarterback situation what it should have been about to begin with: a competition with himself.
Sure, Tagovailoa’s pure arm talent makes it tempting to wonder what the Crimson Tide can accomplish with him this year. But Hurts should view himself as the favorite. He didn’t guide Alabama to two consecutive national title games by accident. He wouldn’t have carried the Crimson Tide as far as he did without skill.
Plus, the near-perfect perception of Tagovailoa after guiding Alabama to a second-half comeback in the National Championship Game against Georgia is skewed. Unlike Hurts, teams haven’t had a chance to study significant tape on Tagovailoa. Unlike Hurts, opponents haven’t formed strategies to scheme against the young player.
Those opportunities will come if Tagovailoa is named the starter this year, and it’s an open question about how he will react.
Of course, Hurts can delay Tagovailoa’s rise to Alabama’s starting quarterback job in 2018. But the chances of that happening will decrease if the negative static produced from Twitter and elsewhere enters Hurts’ mind.