Hurts' growth key for Tide as spring practice opens

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Nick Saban has a starting quarterback returning to Alabama for the first time since 2013. If he's feeling more comfortable because of that, it didn't show Tuesday after the first spring practice.

''Well, we have one year of experience - all of our quarterbacks combined,'' Saban said. ''So that's more of a dynamic than having the starting quarterback back.''

Two early-enrolled freshmen are competing for the chance to back up quarterback Jalen Hurts: Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa. Saban said he thought all three passers had the potential to develop into really good players.

But only one of those quarterbacks can lead the offense, and the team will need Hurts to take the next step, especially as a passer, if the Crimson Tide's next season is going to end better than its last one, which closed with a 35-31 loss to Clemson in the national championship game.

''It's easier for us to self-assess what we need to do for him (Hurts), with him, to help him, to coach him so that he can develop in areas that would be helpful to him becoming even more of a complete player - mostly in the passing game,'' Saban said.

Saban said his new offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, is tweaking the offense to suit Hurts' style of play, but he reiterated that no dramatic changes with regards to how Alabama's offense operates would occur because of the loss to Clemson. Saban didn't think the system was at fault against the Tigers.

''I think it was more a lack of execution than it was something schematically that we were doing,'' Saban said.

With the quarterback question addressed, Alabama's coaching staff can focus on the development of the largest group of early enrollees the Crimson Tide has seen under Saban. The previous high was 11 in 2010, and eight players have enrolled early each of the last three seasons. This spring, Alabama's roster will be bolstered by a class of 16 new freshmen.

''We have a lot of good players to replace - nothing unusual,'' Saban said. ''So it creates a lot of opportunity for a lot of guys, so we'll see how they respond to it and see how much progress we can make throughout the spring.''

NOTES: Saban said four players would participate in spring practice on a limited basis due to pre-existing injuries - defensive back Jared Mayden, linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton and running backs B.J. Emmons and Bo Scarbrough. ... Minkah Fitzpatrick ended the season as a safety but worked at cornerback in practice alongside Anthony Averett while Tony Brown worked as the fifth defensive back.

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