For the first time since 2013, Alabama goes into the season with a settled starter at the most important position on the field. The questions, such as they are, are whether a legitimate superstar can become more consistent in the pocket and how much playing time his heir apparent, another superstar in the wings, will receive.
And not a single Alabama player is an upperclassman.
It’s a good problem to have.
The Starter: Jalen Hurts (So.)
With the Tide’s passing game coming up short down the stretch against excellent defenses it saw the last two months, some have overlooked what a special season Jalen Hurts actually had. It was the most remarkable season by a freshman in Alabama history, and probably the best by a freshman quarterback since Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford in 2007.
Hurts was the SEC Newcomer of the Year, the SEC Freshman of the Year, First-team All-SEC, SEC Offensive Player of the Year, consensus Freshman All-American, finalist for the Manning Award, and a semifinalist for the Walter Camp and Davey O’Brien Awards.
The 6’2, 218-pound Hurts smashed Alabama records for total plays, rushing yards by a quarterback, SEC scores by a freshman, set the new Alabama record for touchdown responsibility, and finished just a few feet behind Blake Sims for yards in a season. Jalen completed 62.9% of his passes for 2780 yards and 23 touchdowns, good for a QB rating of 139.1. On the ground, he added 954 yards, 13 scores and had four 100+ yard days.
By all measures, including the coveted eyeball test, he has improved as a passer this offseason and the reins have been loosened from Hurts. He is a legitimate Heisman candidate. Better for the Tide, for the first time in four years, it has a returning starter under center.
The (Probable) Backup: Tua Tagovailoa
Coach Nick Saban has already said that the Tide will do everything they can to develop Tua immediately. “He will play this year,” has been the unequivocal message from all involved. How much is anyone’s guess. Despite his tremendous talent, there is not a quarterback competition to speak of in 2017. This is Jalen Hurts’ team. Tua will have to earn it — be that in a distant Spring, through injury, or Jalen’s departure.
The 6’1” 219-pound southpaw was a consensus five-star prospect, the consensus No. 1 dual-threat quarterback, and MVP of the Elite 11 Quarterback Camp. His 8,158 passing yards were the most in Hawaii history. He passed for 84 touchdowns and ran for 1727 yards, adding another 27 scores on the ground. His senior season was electric: At St. Louis High he won the Hawaii D1A championship, throwing for 3,932 yards and 43 touchdowns.
We absolutely love this kid. He has the potential to be among if not the greatest to ever wear a crimson jersey at the position. His flashes of brilliance during the A-Day game, just two months on campus, show a polished, unflappable presence at the position and a nearly limitless ceiling. Like Hurts, Tua will be a legitimate Heisman candidate...just not this year.
The (Darkhorse) Backup: Montana Murphy (So.)
Who’s a third QB that could see playing time? Let’s go with Montana Murphy. Last season, after the Quarterback Diaspora, the bumps and bruises and grad transfer of Cooper Bateman, and the in-season transfer of Blake Barnett, Alabama was down to walk-on Montana Murphy as its quarterback depth for the stretch run.
There’s a funny thing about trial by fire: When you’re told every practice to be ready to play on any given snap, that day may eventually come. One play would have seen the 6’3” 201-pound walk-on from Southlake Carroll face the Clemson Tigers. The invaluable reps he got in Alabama’s most meaningful practices probably position Murphy better to be QB3 than anyone else on the roster.
Mac Jones (Fr.) Jones has a really fluid release and a nice arm, but, as you could see from the A-Day game, the 4-star, ninth-rated dropback passer is going to be a work in progress. He’s undersized at 6’2”, 190 and will need to add some meat on his bones and progress overall to see the depth chart. No shame in that: It’s a hard position, at a school with some of the nation’s best, playing against the nation’s best. But, this is a redshirt year for Jones. He should be in the mix for a backup spot next season though.
Wheeler Harris (Fr.) Harris is an intriguing walk-on prospect. On paper, he has the look: He’s big (6’3” 220) and is a strong-armed pocket passer from Arizona’s wide open high school systems. He definitely needs to work on his accuracy and reeds, so making a roster may be tough. But I’m interested in seeing how far he moves up the depth chart, or if he does so, over the next few years and whether he earns a scholarship.
Kyle Edwards (So.) Another young Alabama walk-on, the 6’1” 201 Ediwards probably has the smallest arm of the bunch. He is highly accurate under 15 yards or so. But, I don’t think the offense is moving in that direction. Edwards will probably not see the field in his career, but he’ll get a nice degree and be part of something special along the way.
Predicted Depth Chart
Jalen Hurts - QB1
Tua Tagovailoa - QB2
Montana Murphy - QB3
Bench: Wheeler Harris, Kyle Edwards, Mac Jones redshirt
How much playing time does Tua Tagovailoa see in 2017?
This poll is closed
Strictly backup in beatdowns and in paycheck games
Backup, with some meaningful snaps in meaningful games.
He may even earn a start or two
If Jalen struggles, he’ll play a lot. Tua for Heisman WHOOO!