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If anything, Alabama has a good problem at QB

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Jalen Hurts grows into elite QB, team leader (2:47)

SEC Network's Greg McElroy sits down with Alabama QB Jalen Hurts to discuss how his leadership role has evolved in the past year playing for the Tide. (2:47)


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- A 3-yard pass, a 5-yard pass and a punt.

Oof.

Then -- bang! -- a 23-yard strike down the sideline on first down. And three plays later, a perfectly lofted ball right into the breadbasket of a receiver for a touchdown.

That wasn't the start Jalen Hurts hoped for when he imagined Alabama's spring game on Saturday, going three-and-out and showing no signs of the progress coaches claimed to have seen in him after a rocky end to his freshman season. On the other hand, his backup, Tua Tagovailoa, was all smiles. This was exactly what he must have dreamed of when he left Honolulu in January to enroll early at the University of Alabama.

Was the future at quarterback coming so quickly, though? Could it be that Hurts, the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year -- the first true freshman to win the award since Herschel Walker -- was getting outplayed by a lefty no one had seen attempt a pass before now?

The next possession didn't quell those concerns. After beaming a beautiful pass 60 yards downfield, Hurts threw a terribly conceived interception. Tagovailoa then threw an almost inconceivable touchdown, ricocheting off one receiver before landing in the hands of another for a touchdown. It was the perfect storm for anyone trumpeting the idea of a quarterback competition at Alabama.

But looks can be deceiving.

Hurts settled down and threw two touchdowns before halftime. Tagovailoa came back down to Earth, throwing a careless interception in the second quarter.

The two quarterbacks had comparable stat lines by the time A-Day was over: Hurts completed 16 of 25 passes for 301 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, while Tagovailoa connected on 17 of 29 passes for 313 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

But, remember, Hurts was going against the first-team defense, while Tagovailoa had it easier against the second-string defense. And in the two series he got to play the first team, Tagovailoa went three-and-out twice.

What's more, Hurts, who is the more effective runner of the two, was limited by a noncontact jersey.

So is there really a quarterback controversy at Alabama? No, not right now. If anything, Saturday's scrimmage revealed that Alabama has a good problem at quarterback with two young studs at the position.

Tagovailoa very well may be the more polished passer, but Hurts has already shown the total package and has experience (and a 14-1 record) on his side.

Hurts did struggle to throw the ball against Florida, Washington and Clemson to end last season, but coach Nick Saban admitted that he and former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin might have protected Hurts too much by sacrificing his development. Saban said it was the "No. 1 goal" of the spring to remedy that, pushing Hurts to become a better passer from the pocket. And judging by the only practice open to the public, he appears to be making strides in that direction.

Looking at the spring as a whole, tight end Miller Forristall said, "You can look at last year's film and this year's film and see the difference."

If Hurts can add the intermediate to deep passing game to his toolbox, he could vault into the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the country. After all, he accounted for 3,734 total yards and 36 touchdowns as an underdeveloped rookie.

At worst, Tagovailoa is Alabama's safety net at quarterback. At best, he can push Hurts to improve and develop slowly as the understudy.

Including true freshman Mac Jones, Saban proclaimed that, "All of our quarterbacks are better passers than they were a year ago -- first-, second- and third-team guys."

There might be ups and downs with so much youth at the position, but it's hard to imagine a time during any part of Saban's tenure at Alabama where he has had a more promising group.

In Tagovailoa, the future is bright.

In Hurts, so is the present.