We’ve all heard it. As one grows older, life seems to slow down. So guess who the old guy is in Alabama’s quarterback room?
Jalen Hurts smiled. “I’m the old guy,” he said, “but not by much. It’s different. As far as experience, yeah, but all the guys are cool. I really enjoy being around them.”
Although Jalen Hurts is the returning starter and only Alabama quarterback with college game experience, he is an upcoming sophomore, holding off the challenges of true freshmen Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones.”
Also new in that quarterback room is Brian Daboll, brought in from the New England Patriots to be quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. Hurts, who had two men in that position in his first season (Lane Kiffin for 14 games and Steve Sarkisian for the national championship game), said, “We gelled really quick. I think he came by to visit one day, and came straight up to me and we talked, and he was just kind of telling me what his intentions were, how he did things. Kind of told me his history and what he’s done, so I think we’ve built a really good relationship in a short time.”
Daboll really made an impression on Hurts with a couple of face time phone calls with New England Patriots stars Tom Brady and Ron Gronkowski.
He just dialed them up and put them on the phone?
“Yep,” said Hurts. “That’s how it was.
“We’re running some of the same stuff [New England] ran, so he’ll call Tom Brady and ask what his top five plays are. It’s cool because we’re running the same plays.
"We watch film here and there, we watch film on everybody. All the teams he's been with – the Jets, the Browns, the Patriots. We watch it all."
Hurts said Daboll’s experience in the NFL “added a little bit more respect on the resumé. You’re like, ‘He’s done this. I’m going to listen to him.’ Very respected.”
Of course, it’s more than just having the Xs and Os in a playbook. The proof is in the execution, and Hurts has worked hard at improving.
With the first scrimmage of spring practice coming up Saturday, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said that he wanted to see Hurts being more aware in the pocket, seeing downfield, and getting the ball out quicker. Although Hurts’s considerable run talents aren’t being eliminated from the offense, the emphasis is on improving his passing game.
To that end, the old sophomore Hurts said, “When the game slows down, you get better as a passer. 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.
"I don't think I ever had an instinct to run first, but I'd definitely say it's slowed down. When it's slowed down, it's a little better to process and see what you need to see."
Discussion of the game slowing down is basically a result of experience.
Hurts said following Alabama’s first practice of the spring, Alex Mortensen, a second year graduate assistant working with quarterbacks, noticed it. “He told me, ‘The game looks slower to you.’”
Hurts had made a check on a situation that hadn’t been covered. “Just instinctive, and he noticed it,” Hurts said.
Hurts said he knew what the emphasis on his game would be shortly after Alabama’s one loss of the 2016 season, the loss in the national championship game.
“Right after the championship game (played January 9), I said, ‘My season starts on the 10th.’ And on the 10th, Coach Saban got in touch with me and was like, ‘Okay, this is what we need to improve on.’ And we’ve been working on it since the 10th of January.”
That work is a “maturation process,” Hurts said. “The being mature part, the experience part of it has helped a lot this spring. Slowing the game down, seeing things faster. So I think the whole growth, physically that helps, the experience part helps, and just being a student of the game, learning what I can, being coachable, taking coaching and all that.”
He added, “Everything’s improved. Everything’s gotten better.”
And it wasn’t bad. Hurts was Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Year in his freshman season, completing 240 of 382 passes for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns against only 9 interceptions and rushing 191 times for 954 yards and 13 TDs.
Hurts expects the offense to undergo small tweaks, not a complete overhaul.
He said he appreciates Daboll providing positive gratification to the players. “As a player you like to hear that, hear what you’re doing good,” he said. “You like to hear what you’re doing bad, too. He’s doing a great job, and I’m looking forward to what he brings.”