Slowing the game down: Jalen Hurts making strides as Alabama's signal caller

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Jacob Arthur

   

Matthew Speakman

All eyes are on the quarterback.

After his successful, award-winning 2016 season came to a disappointing end, quarterback Jalen Hurts is ready to take the next step. He wants to improve as Alabama’s first returning starter quarterback since the 2013 season.

“Right after the championship game I said, ‘My season starts on the 10th,’” Hurts said. “And on the 10th, [head] coach [Nick] Saban got in touch with me and was like ‘OK, this is what we need to improve on.’ And we’ve been working on it ever since the tenth of January.”

The big question surrounding Hurts’ off-season is how he would improve his passing game. Last year, Hurts threw for 2780 yards and 23 touchdowns, while also adding 954 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.

Hurts’ clear strength last season was his ability to extend plays with his feet. When he took off, he was dangerous. He wants to be just as dangerous throwing the ball. His teammates are noticing the strides he is trying to take in that area.

“He’s balling,” said wide receiver Calvin Ridley. “He’s doing good. He’s working on his pass game a lot and trying to get that right. The coach is going to do a good job with him. He’s getting coached really well. So I see great things for him.”

Part of Hurts’ progression is just having experience. Thrown into the starting position as an 18-year-old freshman, he said the game would sometimes get frantic in his eyes. Having one season under his belt has already helped him.

“The experience part of it has helped a lot this spring,” Hurts said. “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.”

Hurts said he needed the game to slow down for him. It didn’t take long for that to happen. His very first spring practice, he noticed the change as he dropped back. He wasn’t the only one to notice, either. Hurts said offensive analyst Alex Mortensen could tell he was a different quarterback immediately.

“After practice he told me, he said ‘The game looks slower to you.’ And I was like ‘Yeah. You saw me make a check and just do things we haven’t covered yet, haven’t got to,’” Hurts said. “It’s just instinctive stuff I did and he noticed that. He said ‘It slowed down’ and I was like ‘I guess it did.’”

This spring is much different for Hurts than it was last season. Last year, he was an afterthought in Alabama’s quarterback competition. Coming in as a freshman quarterback, he had to play against some of the nation’s top secondary members. One of these players, safety Ronnie Harrison, said he could tell how much Hurts has grown since the first time they went up against each other.

“His first couple practices, I picked him off a couple of times,” Harrison said. “I could tell he was reading me a lot. I was like, he’s learning defenses and learning how to read better and he’s making a lot of great throws, so he’s definitely progressing.”

Now, Hurts is Alabama’s first returning starter at quarterback since A.J. McCarron spent three seasons as the Crimson Tide’s signal caller. Alabama’s offense is more than happy to have a returning starter at the most important position.

“It’s like you see the quarterbacks make so much progression during the year, and then it’s like they’re gone,” said offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher. “So it’s nice to see him carry that progression and continue to get better. We’ve taken notice. He’s really slinging the ball right now.”

Hurts has already gone through more than most quarterbacks do in an entire career. He led a team to a near-perfect season, was named SEC Offensive Player of the Year and lost two offensive coordinators in the process.

With his usual cool demeanor, he didn’t let any of this affect him. He just wants to respond and add more onto his young career.

“It’s been an adventure I guess,” Hurts said. “It’s a lot. But I think that a lot of things can be thrown at you and you have to be able to respond to certain situations. Like in my first interview, I’ll say it again: it’s the process.”