TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It probably sounded to many like a throwaway line during an interview, but was actually what Alabama fans should have been waiting to hear prior to the start of the 2019 season.
Crimson Tide junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was talking to reporters about full-progression reads, and the idea of finding the best option on a given play, when he made a statement that could have far-reaching implications.
“I’m just taking what the defense gives me now,” he said on Monday afternoon. “If they are going to give me the first read, I’m not going to pass it up.
“Never go broke taking a profit.”
Granted, some will shrug what he said off as being cliché, and to a certain extent it is, but new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian might have done a cartwheel when he heard that line.
Specific to Tagovailoa’s development, there were two main offseason themes that would tell a lot about not only the quarterback’s progress, but the Crimson Tide’s offensive success in 2019.
The first was his health. Avoiding things like taking unnecessary hits from defenders while trying to get extra yards has become a priority. We won’t know how well he’s improved in that regard until the season starts, but his weight and offseason training, both at Alabama and with his father, are both favorable signs.
The other point of emphasis has been getting Tagovailoa to not try and do too much on his own. It’s when he started to press that things like interceptions occurred last season and the offense really stalled.
Take what the defense gives you. Ask any successful quarterback and he’ll tell you it’s crucial in today’s game. It also goes hand-in-hand with preparing, and winning.
But winning doesn’t always correlate to improving.
Alabama has had to learn this the hard way.
Go back to November, near the end of the 2018 season, and the Crimson Tide offense had already peeked. Tagovailoa wasn’t in the habit of going through his progressions, primarily because he didn’t need to through the first two months.
When his initial targets were taken away he had a tendency to either hold on to the ball or try and force things. It’s a major reason why the offense had so many problems against LSU, Mississippi State, Georgia and Clemson.
“Coach [Mike] Locksley tried to simplify it because we were pretty good at the RPO and so we kinda just stuck with that,” Tagovailoa said.
Alabama may have re-written the Alabama record book, but it didn’t continue to evolve as an offense. The don’t fix it unless its broken approach was still enough to get the Crimson Tide to the National Championship Game, but it didn’t play near to its potential down the stretch.
This, the starting point for Sarkisian.
“Every year after the season you try to evaluate big picture, how you can improve as a football team, and us, specifically, offensively,” he said. “We really felt if we could continue to grow in that area of full progression reads so that people … you know, when you become one-dimensional in some capacity, you do a few things well… our feeling is the more things you do well, the harder you are to defend.
“We thought that was an area we thought we could improve in. I think Tua has bought into that. He’s worked extremely hard. He’s shown drastic improvement. I think the receivers see it as well.”
Alabama’s offensive potential this season isn’t just enormous, it’s jaw-dropping.
The offensive line will be bigger, and has depth.
The lead running back has spent two years waiting for his chance to be the primary ball carrier.
There are four outstanding wide receivers who will occasionally all be on the field together.
“It definitely opens things up,” said Tagovailoa, the runner-up for the 2018 Heisman Trophy. “I mean when you have four fast guys out there. When you have Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, these guys aren’t going to play man they are going to play zone. If they play man against these guys, we gotta go out and torch the defense.
“If they are going to play zone, it opens up a lot of the run game. Then, when they end up stepping into the box, then that’s time for RPO’s, play actions. It just opens up everything.”
For those who have been focused on one aspect of the offense, like the power running game or Tagovailoa getting the ball out quicker, those are all important elements, but they’re not the key to what Alabama wants to do this season.
It’s all of those things put together. The more options the offense has the tougher it is to stop, and Alabama is going to be very, very difficult to stop if Tagovailoa keeps developing.
Thus, the importance of what Tagovailoa said.
At SEC media days, he was still talking about taking his shots downfield.
Two weeks ago during Alabama’s media day he talked about more about his body, not binge-eating at night and having the approach to be physically ready.
This was different.
This was the first noticeable thing from working with his new offensive coordinator.
At the end of his media session at the Naylor Stone Media Room, Tagovailoa took a final question about his improvement from a year ago. The intent by the reporter was to get a response about his leadership, and how he’s better able to direct players to where they need to be before the ball is snapped.
Tagovailoa went another direction with his reply, about trying to improve every time he’s on the field.
“I am just looking at improving myself everyday as best as I can,” he said. “Just always having that little whisper in the back of my head, gotta keep pushing, gotta keep fighting, and then just take what they give me and just play a play at a time.”
Here’s hoping Sarkisian didn’t hurt himself with that response.