TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s offensive backfield is sporting a new look these days, even if in some ways it’s only temporary.
Coaches and teammates say quarterback Jalen Hurts has improved his dropback passing during spring practices while his freshman backups learned the offense and got acclimated to college life. Then there’s a talented group of tailbacks, half of whom are recovering from injuries and unlikely to play in Saturday’s spring game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
That left fans to get a glimpse at a future that appears about as bright as it’s ever been under coach Nick Saban at both positions. Plenty showed up, with Alabama announcing the crowd at 74,326.
Saban has said a top spring priority was to help Hurts work on his passing, where he struggled late in the season, including during the national championship game loss to Clemson.
“We have spent a tremendous amount of practice time on it this spring,” Saban said this week. “I think he’s made progress.”
So do Hurts’ teammates, like wide receiver Calvin Ridley.
“I think it’s night and day,” Ridley said. “He’s gotten so much better. He sits in there and sometimes when I’m not in, and I look and he’s stepping up, making good throws. So, he’s gotten a lot better.”
Mid-year enrollees Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones are the only other scholarship quarterbacks on campus after a string of transfers. They’re continuing a duel for the backup job.
It’s the first time in three years that the spring game wasn’t a showcase of quarterbacks vying for the starting job. But there has been plenty of anticipation about the two freshmen, especially Tagovailoa as the nation’s top-rated dual-threat quarterback according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
He and Hurts both delivered on Saturday.
Hurts passed for 301 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yarder to Robert Foster.
Tagovailoa completed 18 of 32 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns. He hit fellow five-star freshman Jerry Jeudy for a 25-yarder off a deflection. Jeudy had a big game as well, catching five passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns.
The jockeying for carries among the running backs, meanwhile, figures to be feverish behind stars Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris. Both are sidelined while recovering from injuries, as is reserve B.J. Emmons.
That left two more newcomers, Najee Harris and Brian Robinson, and Josh Jacobs to carry the rushing load with the first-team offense facing the No. 1 defense and second-teamers also squaring off. Harris was rated the nation’s No. 3 overall recruit in the composite rankings and had already made an impression on teammates in the first 14 practices.
He got the most opportunities among the running backs, rushing for 70 yards on 17 carries and catching three passes for 37 yards.
“He’s really hard to tackle in the open field,” Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “He’s jumping over people, he’s running through people, running around people and he’s a great athlete. A really fast runner, really explosive. It’s really good to see him out there.”