TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After the first spring practice for Alabama football, one of Alabama’s offensive analysts walked up to Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Alex Mortensen approached Hurts after noticing a change in the rising sophomore’s game.
“He said, ‘The game looks slower to you.’ And I was like, ‘well yeah,'” Hurts said. “He saw me make a check and just do things we haven’t covered yet. It’s just kind of instinctive stuff that I did and he noticed that. He said ‘it slowed down’ and I was like ‘I guess it did.'”
Safety Ronnie Harrison has seen the growth in Alabama’s young quarterback as well.
When Hurts arrived in Tuscaloosa, Harrison often got the best of the then-true freshman quarterback. Harrison intercepted Hurts’ passes during his first few practices. Now, it’s not as easy for Harrison to fool Hurts.
“One play in practice, we were playing some kind of coverage or whatever, but basically it was kind of like a safety read,” Harrison said. “He was reading me to see if I was coming down in coverage or if I was going to stay high. And I tried to hold it, but I couldn’t and I came down, and he faked the ball and threw it to the receiver right over my head.
“I was like, ‘Dang, Jalen’s coming along.'”
Hurts doesn’t want to be viewed as a run-first quarterback. In fact, he doesn’t believes he’s ever had the instinct to run first.
He does acknowledge being a little impatient in the pocket at times last season. That’s why he and the coaching staff have him focused on sitting in the pocket and letting things develop this spring.
“When the game slows down, you get better as a passer,” Hurts said. “I probably ran a little bit more last year because I was young. It’s slower now, so, of course the passing game, we can only expect it to be better.”
Hurts helped Alabama to the national championship game and won SEC Player of the Year and SEC Freshman of the Year honors despite some “true freshman” struggles.
Hurts accounted for 3,734 yards and 36 total touchdowns last season.
If he’s able to improve his ability to read defenses and become more accurate on certain throws, that could mean trouble for the rest of the SEC and college football.
Alabama coach Nick Saban outlined what he wants Hurts to work on this spring.
“I think decision-making, getting the ball out of his hand more quickly, not looking at the rush, not drifting in the pocket, reading and having his eyes in the right place relative to the coverage and read what that particular play has,” Saban said. “I think those are the things that are fundamentally what we’re trying to improve on and I think he’s doing a much better job in that regard.
“He still has the ability to run and make plays with his feet, but that’s not what we want to focus on right now. I think he’s kind of bought into that and done a really good job with it.”
Hurts understands there is plenty of work to be done. He spent his time away from Tuscaloosa back home working with his brother to get better as a quarterback.
He is now the old guy in Alabama’s quarterback meeting room that includes true freshmen Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa.
Hurts is the first returning starting quarterback Alabama has had since AJ McCarron in 2013. He’s dealt with multiple offensive coordinator and position coach changes throughout his short career, but hasn’t let it affect him.
“He’s really taken it all in stride. He’s really stepped up as a leader,” Alabama left guard Ross Pierschbacher said of Hurts. “Vocally, he’s become more of a leader even in this offseason just leading us in the huddle or the sideline telling us the direction that we want to go.
“I think he’s got a really good relationship with (offensive coordinator) coach (Brian) Daboll which has shown. They’ll be messing around and joking around. I think it’s made him play looser and really learn the offense. It’s been helpful for us.”
Don’t be surprised if you see an improved Hurts this season. After all, he’s been working to get better since the day after the Crimson Tide’s last-second loss to Clemson.
“Right after the championship game, I said ‘My season starts on the 10th,'” Hurts said. “And on the 10th, Coach Saban got in touch with me and was like ‘OK, this is what we need to improve on. And we’ve been working on it ever since the 10th of January.”