Mac Jones Enters Fall as Alabama's Starting Quarterback; The Job is His to Lose
Under normal circumstances, the best way to break in a new starting quarterback is to surround him with numerous returning starters, and not put him in a position in which he feels like he has to win the game.
But this year has been anything but normal.
Mac Jones isn't in a typical situation, either. He's already started four games for Alabama, and ran the offense for bowl practices after Tua Tagovailoa suffered a season-ending hip injury.
The redshirt junior is surrounded by a ton of talent and returning starters, though.
With offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian remaining after getting some head coaching interest, Alabama’s biggest offensive question over the offseason was if there would be a quarterback competition. Bryce Young, widely considered one of the top prospects in the nation, enrolled early and was set to start challenging for he starting job only to see spring practices canceled at the last minute.
As the incumbent, Jones not only has the edge, but the job is his to lose during fall camp.
Against Michigan in the Citrus Bowl he silenced his doubters while connecting on an 85-yard touchdown on the first play of the game, and later added scoring strikes of 42 and 20 yards. He finished 16-of-25 for 327 yards and three touchdowns.
"The bowl practices helped a lot," Jones said. "You know even in Tuscaloosa when we got extra work in, we had a whole, like, month to prepare."
It was also a nice bounce-back after the loss at Auburn, where he had two costly interceptions returned for touchdowns, one the length of the field.
“We try to get him to play within himself and just make the reads that you have to make,” Nick Saban said. “Don't force the ball. Take what the defense gives you and sort of try to use an ABC approach with him and not make it too complicated. And he's a very smart guy. He makes good choices and decisions when he plays within himself and I think that's the number one thing that we've seen Mac grow in.
“And, you know, I think you can't really coach experience. You know, you have to kind of get that. And he's got some good experience and a lot of it has been very good and he's made a couple plays I'm sure he wishes that he could have back, but I think he'll learn and grow from those things.”
Overall, after taking over following Tagovailoa’s season-ending injury at Mississippi State, Jones finished 97-of-141, for 1,503 yards to go with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions.
His 186.8 passer-efficiency rating was third in the league, behind Tagovailoa, who set the NCAA career record in the statistical category, and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow.
Nationally, Burrow finished first because Tagovailoa just missed the minimum requirements, while Jones would have been fourth, between former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts at Oklahoma, and Justin Fields of Ohio State.
That's not to say that Young, or even Paul Tyson, can't make a push and challenge Jones. Just remember, though, Tagovailoa didn't start as a true freshman.
2020 Alabama Quarterbacks
Returning: Mac Jones, Paul Tyson
New: Bryce Young
Departures: Tua Tagovailoa (NFL), Taulia Tagovailoa (transfered to Maryland)
This is the third story in a series regrading Alabama's fall camp, set to open Monday
• Running backs: With Najee Harris Leading the Running Backs, Alabama's Ground Game in 20/20 Shape
• Defensive line: Strength in Numbers Doesn't Begin to Describe Alabama's Potential