TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Two words might best describe the debut of Alabama’s offense under new coordinator Brian Daboll: Go deep.
During Saturday’s spring game, the go route was a popular choice for both starting quarterback Jalen Hurts and backup Tua Tagovailoa. The two combined for 614 passing yards and five touchdowns, including completions of 38, 47, 60 and 65 yards.
Fourteen players caught passes in all. And while Calvin Ridley going over the 100-yard mark was to be expected, the emergence of Robert Foster and Jerry Jeudy at receiver was a welcomed surprise for an offense that coach Nick Saban believed was too one-dimensional last season and failed to make the most use of its skill players at receiver and tight end.
If Daboll can use Foster and Jeudy to stretch the field, then watch out. Because the running game is already expected to be among the best in the country with Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, Joshua Jacobs and B.J. Emmons all back. Najee Harris, the No. 2 running back in the 2016 recruiting class, enrolled early and has the look of a playmaker as well after hurdling his way to a team-high 70 yards on 12 carries Saturday.
But, again, it wasn’t the running game that encouraged Alabama fans the most. That was a given. It’s the previously lacking intermediate and deep passing game that could really transform the offense in 2017.
Saban said it was his “No. 1 goal” to get Hurts more comfortable in the pocket and pushing the ball downfield. And while he had some shaky moments during A-Day, overall he looked much more confident airing it out than he did as a freshman last season.
“It was good that we threw the ball with a little more efficiency,” Saban said, “and we made some explosive plays in the passing game, which I think is very important to being successful on offense.”
Said Hurts: “That’s something that we obviously wanted to work on this offseason. And it’s improved and it will get better.”
Hurts might have been “protected” a little too much under former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, as Saban said, but that didn’t appear to be the case with Daboll. The former New England Patriots assistant was very hands-on with Hurts throughout the game and gave him instruction even as he came off the field after driving 58 yards in 1:09 to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired.
Granted, it was a glorified scrimmage and the defense wasn’t giving complex looks, but the happy feet that led to mistakes last season were mostly gone for Hurts. He still scrambled when he could pick up easy yards, but it wasn’t his first option.
In other words, there was progress.
“You can look at last year’s film and this year’s film and see the difference,” said tight end Miller Forristall.
After seeing the pendulum swing the last few years from a conservative offense to the spread and quick passing game, it appears that Daboll is going to land somewhere in the middle. The pro style is back at Bama, with elements of the spread mixed in.
When asked what he learned about his new offensive coordinator this spring, Forristall said, “What did I learn? He’s a really good offensive coordinator.”
“When he first came in, everybody was wondering who this guy is. You know his past experiences. But he’s here now and he trusts us and we trust him a lot.”