Alex ScarboroughESPN Staff Writer
The drama is over. The moment Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts took the field against Louisiana on Saturday, the great debate of whether or not he should redshirt ended. By appearing in a fifth game, his decision was made clear without him having to say a word.
After a week in which Kelly Bryant left Clemson, Jalen McCleskey left Oklahoma State, and both Jalen Harris and Nate Craig-Myers left Auburn, Hurts’ choice to continue playing at Alabama was widely framed as the work of a great teammate. His “sacrifice” didn’t go unnoticed. Alabama fans appreciated it so much that they gave him a standing ovation last week against Texas A&M and then again on Saturday.
Is Hurts a good teammate? Sure. Has he made sacrifices? Of course he has.
But make no mistake, this isn’t about that. Not entirely, at least.
As much as this can be labeled a feel-good story, this was ultimately a business decision. If it wasn’t a move that Hurts felt would help his career long term, then he wouldn’t have made it.
Don’t believe it? Go back and listen to the way Alabama coach Nick Saban framed the decision last week. Look at the words he used: how “professional” Hurts had been about the situation; how Hurts was “focusing on improving and the value he can get from this season.”
The value, Hurts and his camp decided, was in staying put.
The potential for a second year of eligibility just wasn’t that important. And it’s not difficult to understand why. Having already started 28 games, how much more time did he really need? Assuming he starts at his next destination, he’ll leave college with roughly 40 starts under his belt, and that’s more than enough of a sample size.
By sticking it out at Alabama, he can continue to better himself even though he’s not the starter. He’s still getting reps. Just look at Saturday, when he came on in the first quarter against Louisiana and threw a touchdown pass on his first drive. So far, he has completed a total of 26 of 37 passes for 394 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. Before the season ends, he’s likely to accumulate in the neighborhood of 300 snaps. It’s not starter numbers, of course, but it’s not insignificant, either.
More important, though, is for the first time in his career, he’s able to work every day with a dedicated quarterbacks coach in Dan Enos, who is well respected in college and the pros. (His previous two offensive coordinators doubled as his position coach.) The time in practice and the film room with Enos, that one-on-one attention he can provide all the quarterbacks, has real value even if it doesn’t show up in a stat sheet.
Players and coaches say they have already noticed the progress Hurts has made as a passer this season. Saban told reporters just last week that he has seen how he’s improved in the pocket.
“There’s never been any question about his arm talent,” Saban said. “It’s always been making decisions, choices, second reads, that type of things, which I think he’s really made a lot of improvement on. And I think when he’s done those things, he’s had really good success. And I think consistency in continuing to do those things is the key to him in the future.”
If Hurts sat down, if he had chosen to redshirt, his development might have suffered. He would have been relegated to the scout team in order to prepare Mac Jones for the backup role, according to sources. And by doing so, by not taking another meaningful snap all year, he could have accumulated rust that may have hindered his transition to a potential starting role elsewhere.
While it’s true that it’s always better to have more eligibility than less, it’s important to remember that he’ll have the redshirt in his back pocket wherever he goes. That safety net is still there for him, just in case.
There will be those who say he should have bailed early. Second-guessing comes with the territory. But this wasn’t a choice that came easily or hastily. Hurts and his camp had all offseason and then the first four weeks of the regular season to look at every angle before deciding what’s best.
The good news for Alabama is that in this instance, what Hurts felt was best for himself was also what was best for the Crimson Tide.