April 05, 2017

Jalen Hurts tried to quickly move on from the disappointment of losing the national championship game to focusing on improving his skills.

The Crimson Tide quarterback knew he had plenty of work to do even after an impressive freshman season that ended with poor passing performances. Hurts is preparing for Year 2 with a new offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, and fresh-faced backups, and said that process began a day after falling to Clemson in the Jan. 9 title game .

''Right after the championship game, I said `My season starts on the 10th,''' Hurts said on Wednesday. ''And on the 10th, coach (Nick) Saban got in touch with me and was like, `OK, this is what we need to improve on.' And we've been working on it ever since the 10th of January.''

That has included getting used to Daboll's system and, already, his third offensive coordinator. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin left before the Clemson game in Tampa, Florida, and replacement Steve Sarkisian went to the Atlanta Falcons a few weeks after the game.

Hurts said the rapid offensive coordinator turnover has been ''an adventure.''

Having Daboll arrive after working with the New England Patriots does come with its perks, including FaceTime sessions with tight end Rob Gronkowski and quarterback Tom Brady. Hurts said Daboll asked Brady for his top 5 plays.

''It's cool because we're running the same plays,'' Hurts said.

He's the only scholarship quarterback back with three others having transferred during or after last season. Hurts took over in the second game and was named Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year.

He ran for 954 yards and 13 touchdowns while passing for 2,780 and 23 TDs against nine interceptions. But the passing numbers dwindled down the stretch. Hurts threw for just 57 yards in the semifinal win over Washington and was 13 of 31 for 131 yards against Clemson, with more than half of that coming on a long pass to tight end O.J. Howard.

Saban said the focus for Hurts this spring includes improving his decision-making, reading coverages and releasing the ball more quickly.

''I think those are the things that are fundamentally what we're trying to get him to improve on and I think he's doing a much better job in that regard,'' the coach said. ''He still has the ability to run and make plays with his feet, but that's not what we want to focus on right now. I think he's kind of bought into that and done a really good job with it.''

Saban hasn't had his starting quarterback return since AJ McCarron in 2013. Blake Sims and Jake Coker didn't win the job until their final seasons, so this is a luxury for both Saban and Hurts' teammates.

''It's like you see the quarterbacks make so much progression during the year, and then it's like they're gone,'' guard Ross Pierschbacher said. ''So it's nice to see him carry that progression and continue to get better. We've taken notice. He's really slinging the ball right now.

''Having coach Daboll back there really coach him up, we've seen a lot progression from Jalen so it's been good.''

There's no experience behind Hurts, though. Freshman mid-year enrollees Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa are vying for the backup job, and a year after being in the same boat Hurts is now the seasoned veteran of the group.

''I'm the old guy,'' he said, ''but not by much.''

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