TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — This time last season, the question of who would start at quarterback for the University of Alabama football team was still up in the air.
This season, that question no longer plagues the minds of fans.
The hot topic of last August was who head coach Nick Saban would select to be the starter between junior Jalen Hurts and sophomore Tua Tagovailoa. Hurts had more experience, having played in two national championships as the Crimson Tide’s starter.
Tagovailoa had impressed the team and the nation with his come-from-behind performance in the 2018 National Championship overtime win over Georgia.
With Saban’s discreet nature when it comes to revealing information, the question remained on fans’ minds until opening day.
While Tagovailoa was awarded the starting spot, Hurts filled the role of backup quarterback admirably, choosing not to transfer and stick with Alabama for another year. His decision to remain at Alabama boosted Hurts’ legacy among the fanbase, and when he announced his departure from Alabama after the 2018-2019 season, no one gave it a second thought.
Tagovailoa, now a junior, is well-embedded in the Crimson Tide’s offensive system and is the unopposed leader of the offense.
“Where I see my leadership grow is building relationships with other guys on the team,” Tagovailoa said at Saturday’s Crimson Tide media day. “I’d only hang out with a certain amount of guys last year, but I think building a relationship with everyone is the best thing because that’s how you’re going to be team.”
Meanwhile, after being redshirted his freshman year, redshirt sophomore Mac Jones has sat on the sidelines for his first two seasons without seeing much action.
All of that could change this year, though, as Jones is poised to fill the backup spot directly behind Tagovailoa, filling the same position that Hurts served last season.
“I feel like Jalen did set a really good example,” Jones said. “If people respect you by the way you work, then you’ll be fine when you get in the game. They’ll trust you, and you got to earn their trust out here on the practice field.”
With Hurts now out of the picture having moved on to Oklahoma, both Tagovailoa and Jones are focused on one singular thing: finishing what last year’s team started.
“I think more so as a team we emphasize finishing,” Jones said. “All summer it was all about finishing whether it was any part of our workout, just work on finishing that last part because towards the end of the season obviously everyone saw we fell off a little bit, and it is what it is. We had to accept that. You got to recognize where you’re weak at and try and fix those things, but at the end of the day it’s not the end of the world and you got to keep moving along.
“If you dwell on a loss or on a mistake then you’re just going to be stuck in that spot. You got to live your life in a way that you learn from your mistakes and move on. I think that’s what we did.”
After starting 14-0 last season, including a SEC Championship Game victory over Georgia, Alabama lost in the national title game to Clemson 44-16.
It’s a loss that has motivated both quarterbacks this offseason.
“We dealt with the loss,” Tagovailoa said. “We dealt with a lot of things. You’re hurting during camp, whatever is going on with you, so it’s there, so what? Now what are you going to do about it? I don’t think my mentality is any different. The mentality has got to stay the same.
“This is a new team, and we all want to win the big one. People never remember you for the good things that you do, but they’re all going to remember you for the bad, so we’re working on trying to execute and get everything right to become successful and achieve what we want to as a team.”
Tagovailoa was also quick to say that the team has moved on from last year’s disappointing finale and is ready to put their experience into practice this season.
“I’ve got a lot more games under my belt, more amount of experience now with having the opportunity to play in two national championships, but you live and you learn from a lot of the things even with the little games that you played and you’ve won,” Tagovailoa said. “A lot of things that I didn’t correct within those games eventually caught up and within that last game everything just came out.”
In a day and age where players like Hurts transfer after not getting the playing time they feel they need, Jones remains committed to Alabama.
“I think people do what’s best for them,” Jones said. “If you think that your best opportunity is to leave, then that’s fine but I’ve never been a guy that just walked away from competition. Obviously that makes you stronger and it’s not going to hurt you either way but giving it your best shot and keep working and God has a plan for everybody so keep grinding.”
With the hiring of Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator, the Alabama offense has had some adjusting to do during the offseason to acclimate to the run-first mentality.
“It’s a great feeling,” Tagovailoa said. “When you have guys like that you have the opportunity to run the ball, you have the opportunity to throw the ball whenever. Just a lot of things schematically are just wide open for you. It makes play football not easy, but it makes playing football a lot of fun.”