March 21, 2018 8:55:02 AM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The Alabama football team's quarterback competition could be on hold, at least briefly.
The reigning national champion Crimson Tide opened spring practice Tuesday with an intriguing battle between two-year starter
Jalen Hurts, who's 26-2 in that role, and title game hero Tua Tagovailoa. It won't hit full steam until Tagovailoa recovers from a thumb injury on his throwing hand he sustained in the first practice.
Coach Nick Saban said Tagovailoa would be evaluated in Birmingham to determine the nature of the injury.
"I think in a few days Tua will probably be able to do some things but when you hurt your thumb on your throwing hand, it's kind of hard to grip the ball so I think that's going to be the issue," he said.
Saban is already trying to place a firm grip on any notion that there's a quarterback controversy brewing while praising the attitudes of both players.
"Both those guys have been great," he said. "I know that every time I stand up here, y'all (reporters) are going to try to make something out of it that it isn't. It's two good players that both can contribute to our team and we're going to give them both an opportunity to do that.
"They've been great with each other. They've been great for each other. They've both shown leadership for our team. They're both important to our team."
Hurts has led Alabama to two straight national title games. The SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman, he has accounted for nearly 6,700 yards of total offense the past two seasons, rushing for 21 touchdowns and passing for 40. Hurts passed for just 21 yards in the first half of the championship game against Georgia.
Tagovailoa, a five-star recruit from Hawaii, came in for the second half of the title game. He rallied Alabama from a 13-0 deficit and launched a 41-yard touchdown pass to fellow freshman DeVonta Smith in overtime to win the game. Tagovailoa was the game's offensive MVP. He delivered when given the chance in mop-up duties throughout the season.
"We're giving both guys an opportunity and we'll see how they compete and see how they do," Saban said. "We don't have any decisions. We're not speculating on any decisions but we're just going to be fair and honest in terms of how we give both players a chance to compete."
Alabama must replace five early NFL draft departures, including safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne and wide receiver Calvin Ridley.
The Crimson Tide also have six new assistant coaches and promoted Mike Locksley to offensive coordinator and Tosh Lupoi to defensive coordinator. The new coaches are: associate head coach and quarterbacks coach Dan Enos, associate head coach and defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, inside linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Pete Golding, co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Josh Gattis, defensive backs coach Karl Scott, and special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Jeff Banks.
Alabama returns 10 starters, including seven on offense and three on defense. The offense welcomes back junior quarterback Jalen Hurts, senior running back Damien Harris, offensive linemen Jonah Williams, Ross Pierschbacher, Lester Cotton Sr., and Matt Womack, and junior tight end Hale Hentges.
"I think we're very, very fortunate and hit a home run with the guys that we were able to hire," Saban said.
Former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones was officially cleared by the NCAA to work for the Crimson Tide.
Several players will miss all or most of spring. Starting right tackle Matt Womack had foot surgery for an injury that he aggravated during spring break. Linebacker Anfernee Jennings will likely sit out spring while recovering from a left knee injury suffered during in the victory against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. Backup tailback Josh Jacobs had ankle surgery but may return and participate in some drills during the spring. Linebacker Keith Holcombe is focusing on baseball this spring and will decide afterward if he wants to play football as a fifth-year senior.
Alabama also welcomed five mid-year enrollees to the field, including wide receiver Slade Bolden, punter Skyler DeLong, defensive linemen Jarez Parks and Stephon Wynn Jr., and defensive back Saivion Smith.
Alabama will play the annual Golden Flake A-Day Game at 1 p.m. April 21.
The team will return to the field Thursday and Saturday.
n Southern Mississippi holds first spring practice: At Hattiesburg, coach Jay Hopson's team began its journey into the 2018 season Tuesday with a late-afternoon practice.
"I thought the effort and intensity was good on this first day of spring," Hopson said. "I saw some good things and we have to get better on Thursday with that same intensity. Spring is all about fundamentals. ... You want to see your team get better and grow each day. I thought it was a good start today. We will correct some things in film."
Southern Miss, which is entering its third year under Hopson, spent the majority of a cool and windy practice in individual drills. The Golden Eagles had several early enrollees on the field, mostly thanks to the recent NCAA rule change allowing for December high school signing day.
"We have a lot of speed, which I like," Hopson said. "We have Quez Watkins and Jaylond Adams, and Trevor Terry, and the list goes on with Jordan Mitchell. We are really a fast receiving group and with the running backs, Tez Parks and T'Rod Daniels with George Payne and Darius Maberry coming back. I really like the talent on this football team. We just have to keep putting in the work to get better."
Southern Miss will play host to Jackson State on Sept. 1 in its season opener.
n In related news, Hopson welcomed three new assistants to his staff, one of which a former Golden Eagle student-athlete, for the 2018 season.
The new and familiar faces include Brock Hays (tight ends), Eddie Hicks (Class of 2010, cornerbacks) and Les Koenning (running backs).
Hays comes to Hattiesburg following a successful two-year stint at Nicholls, where he helped the Colonels to a 2017 Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoff appearance (the fourth in school history and first since 2005).
Hicks was an All-Conference USA performer from 2008-09 as a Golden Eagle. He made the league's all-freshman team in 2006.
Hicks served as the cornerbacks coach at Austin Peay for the last two years.
A veteran coordinator with more than 37 years of experience, Koenning comes to Hattiesburg after a two-year stint as Alabama-Birmingham's offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
Prior to his arrival in Birmingham, Koenning served as wide receivers coach at Texas in 2014. He also spent time as the offensive coordinator at Mississippi State (2009-13), South Alabama (2008), Texas A&M (2003-07), and Alabama (2001-02).