Who among Alabama fans has not considered the vulnerability of the 2016 Alabama football team if Jalen Hurts gets injured? No one can speak for all fans, but Nick Saban can speak for the head coach.
The question of the importance of Alabama’s freshman quarterback was amplified last week when Hurts’s back-up (and the starter in the first game of the season against Southern Cal) Blake Barnett decided to transfer.
Following Wednesday’s practice, Saban got the reasonable question as to whether the departure of Barnett would influence Saban to reduce the number of designed runs for Hurts.
Saban first gave a pat on the back to junior Cooper Bateman, last year’s back-up and the man many expected to be No. 1 this season. “We have confidence in Cooper Bateman,” Saban said. “He’s been a back-up quarterback for us in the past and has some experience and a similar skill set.”
Bateman has only mop-up duty this year, going 8-9 passing for 56 yards. His only run was a nine-yard loss. In his career, he has completed 45 of 61 passes for 347 yards and 1 touchdown with 1 interception and has six carries for minus 1 yard.
Hurts, a true freshman who has been instrumental in Alabama’s 5-0 record and No. 1 national ranking, has completed 84 of 135 passes for 989 yards and 7 touchdowns with 1 interception. He has run 54 times for 276 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Saban said, "We certainly don't want to do anything that would get our quarterback injured in any way, shape or form. But I think his skill set is what it is and we have to use the things that he can do effectively in our offense. We continue to try to make improvements in the passing game. I think one of Jalen's great assets as a player is that he can make plays with his feet and I don't think we can totally inhibit him from doing that.
“I guess if he gets injured doing it, then it'll my fault. I guess if he gets injured by sitting in the pocket throwing a pass, then it's okay. It's football.
“I don't worry about guys getting hurt. We're going to do what we have to do to try to give ourselves the best chance to be successful and give him the best chance to be successful."
Saban was also asked if the Alabama playbook has been adjusted for the freshman quarterback to make his reads.
Saban said, “First of all, we’re trying to execute and not do more than what Jalen is capable of doing. I think it’s important that we get a lot of repetitions and we decide early in the week what we’re going to do offensively so we can go practice it. I think that’s true for all players.
“I think when you have a young quarterback that’s especially important.
“What we’re talking about, basically, is you have a play call, you have a pattern that develops, and the guy has to read, sometimes whether the middle of the field open, whether the middle of the field is closed, as to which side he’s going to throw the ball to. So that’s one of the things that we think about.
“Other times you’re just trying to limit the side of the field he’s going to throw the ball to, he’s reading some kind of a high-low, which is a little bit easier for him to do.
“He’s a very bright guy, I think he gets it. He just needs turns so that he can get the kind of experience to feel comfortable and confident in doing this, sort of that same old over and over and over and over thing. Everyone thinks that you practice something to get it right. You really practice it until you can’t get it wrong. There’s a difference in that.”