TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even though one of them has been hurt this spring, the talk has been endless about University of Alabama quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa.
There’s been nearly none about the Crimson Tide’s other quarterback, Mac Jones.
You remember him, right? He signed in the recruiting Class of 2017 after leading The Bolles School in Jacksonville to the Florida 4A state championship game as a senior. Jones wears No. 10 for the Crimson Tide and hopes to someday play like a guy who previously had it, AJ McCarron.
Come Saturday, Jones will be front and center during Alabama’s A-Day Game.
With Tagovailoa out with a hand fracture, the redshirt freshman and Hurts are the only scholarship quarterbacks available. Nick Saban likes to split the Crimson Tide into two sides for the final spring scrimmage and barring something surprising, Jones will lead the second-team offense for much of the day.
It’s his first big opportunity at Alabama, and first big chance to step out of shadows of the other two.
“I think Mac has made a lot of improvement,” Saban said. “He’s very competitive.”
He’d have to be to even put himself in this situation. Go back to signing the Class of 2017. While Alabama was desperate for quarterbacks with only one on the roster, most were scared off at the likelihood of sitting. Even the Crimson Tide veterans were as Blake Barnett, Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell transferred after Hurts won the starting job and was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman.
Jones, who was listed by the 247Sports composite rankings as the nation’s No. 18 pro-style quarterback, also wasn’t scared off by being in the same class as Tagovailoa, who was considered a consensus 5-star prospect. Many others obviously were as Alabama didn’t sign a quarterback in its subsequent class.
When they got on campus as early enrollees, it didn’t take Tagovailoa long to establish himself as Alabama’s immediate backup. Jones would have a more traditional path in developing — one that would take time.
That’s not a bad thing. Even McCarron had to redshirt a year and wait his chance before becoming a three-year starter. Yet it’s not an easy thing to go through, either.
Nevertheless, the difference was apparent during the 2017 A-Day Game. Both Hurts and Tagovailoa passed for 300-plus yards and combined for 5 passing touchdowns (with 1 interception each). Jones, who like Tagovailoa enrolled early, was 5 for 11 for 45 yards and 2 interceptions in a limited role.
He redshirted and made a huge mistake last fall, being charged with driving under the influence. Perhaps he learned something from the experience, as evidenced by his volunteer work at the East Tuscaloosa Community Soup Bowl.
That will be the key for Jones’ progress — maturing.
“When you’re the quarterback, how does what I’m doing affect my unit?” Saban said. “So when things don’t go well, you can’t always show your emotions, show your disappointment. You have to be positive, like ‘We’re going to get them on the next play.’ That’s a part of his leadership we have to continue to work on. But he’s made more and more good plays.
“We feel really good about his development. We’re just trying to get him to focus on being the best player that he can be because he’s going to be in position this year where he’s not going to be far away from having to play.”
Right now, Jones is one snap away from running Alabama’s first-team offense. Listed as 6-2, 199 pounds, he looks the part more and there’s obviously a growing confidence even though the spotlight remains on Hurts and Tagovailoa — not just locally, but nationally.
That competition will happen eventually, and no one knows what the ramifications will be. Either way, the best thing Jones can do is show the coaches that it’s not distracting him from what he needs to do and have a similar businesslike approach.
“I think it’s been nothing but positive, to be honest,” senior offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher said about the quarterbacks this spring. “Even interacting in the locker room, they’ve all been friendly about it, civil. There’s not butting heads or anything, so that’s been good to see. I think all three are handling it very maturely.”
Everyone will see what kind of difference it’s making with Jones at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.