TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When it comes to being a starting quarterback in college football, there are more elements than simply skills on the gridiron that are needed to be an effective starter. These skills vary from quarterback to quarterback, but you will consistently find among the best quarterbacks three qualities that separate them from the rest.
Leadership, maturity and adaptability.
So far in his first full season as starting quarterback for Alabama football, redshirt-junior Mac Jones has displayed all three of these off-the-field qualities that have translated well onto the field.
On Monday, Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban pointed out how Jones’ maturity has enabled him to quickly overcome adversity.
“Mac’s shown a lot of maturity in the way that he’s played so far this year,” Saban said. “I think the more experience he gets, the more confidence that he has. We left some plays on the field, I think, on third down in the game that we certainly need to improve on and work on because that’s been something that’s been a really positive thing for us. But Mac’s been able to stay steady. He stays in a good place, keeps his eyes in the right place, keeps making good choices and decisions.
“I think that’s when he’s most productive, and he’s done that on a very consistent basis all year long.”
Consistency Jones has, and in droves. In fact, Jones was just 13 passing yards short of having four-consecutive 400-plus yard games — a feat never before accomplished by a quarterback at the University of Alabama.
Jones faced one of his toughest moments of adversity yet this past Saturday at Tennessee when on the opening kickoff one of his primary receivers, junior Jaylen Waddle, went down with a season-ending ankle injury. Despite Waddle being not only his teammate, he is also his friend. However, Jones was quickly able to maintain his focus on the task at hand.
Redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Slade Bolden, who came into Saturday’s game to replace Waddle, had a lot to say on Tuesday about Jones’ ability to overcome adversity.
“Mac’s put in so much hard work over the past few years, whether it’s in the offseason or during the season — and that’s one thing he’s had to learn, like any other quarterback — to stay calm,” Bolden said. “If you get riled up too easy, it can also affect the team. He’s done a good job of improving on that and I know that’s just his personality. He does a good job of staying calm and poised when times get hard or adversity strikes.”
Bolden connected with Jones on all five of his passes to him, giving Bolden by far the most effective performance of his career at Alabama.
Having a bond off the field for quarterbacks and their receivers in college football is just as important as what you have on the field. Establishing that connection early and maintaining it provides a greater bond on the field, which translates into results.
Bolden said that for him, Jones has been there since day one.
“Me and Mac, we became pretty close,” Bolden said “When I was being recruited on my official visit he was my host, so just from there we had a special bond and connection. It’s funny because any time he needed a throwing partner, I was there to help because not only was it helping him, it was helping me get better. We do have that connection.”
Both Bolden and Jones this past week referred to late-night, 12 a.m. throwing sessions between the two, getting in practice one-on-one to fine-tune their passing and receiving skills. So far, their connection seems to be paying off.
For Jones, those late-night sessions and watching film of Bolden’s high school highlights helped him form that connection despite not sharing a lot of playing time on the field.
“I don’t know if there’s anything specific,” Jones said. “He’s a guy who knows what to do. He knows where to line up. He’s played a lot of different positions. Shoot, he’s even played defense before in the spring practices before. The guy knows a lot about football. If you go and watch his high school highlights, I always like watching his highlights because it gets me pretty fired up. He’s making plays.
“So when you have somebody that can make plays like that and put him wherever you want on the field, he’s super versatile. I’ve got a lot of banked reps with him. He’s a guy if I ever need to throw, whether it’s at 12 at night or 6 in the morning, he’ll be there. So I always appreciate Slade and he’s going to do a good job. He’s just getting started.”
Through his relationship with Bolden, Jones has shown great leadership skills despite his limited time as a starter for Alabama. While he has had to overcome one of his greatest challenges this past weekend, the work is far from done.
To Jones himself, he believes that he has gotten better at overcoming adversity and developing his maturity, but admits that he still has areas that he can improve in — another characteristic of those successful in the game of college football.
“It’s definitely gotten better,” Jones said. “Really just focusing on doing your job. I always say that, it’s pretty cliché, but really that’s what it comes down to. Regardless of the situation, once you start thinking about, like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get this third down,’ or, ‘We need to score on this drive,’ I feel like a lot of people on our team sometimes think like that — and it’s hard to not think like that — but really just telling everybody, ‘Hey, just focus on your job on this play.’ And then once you look at it, the plays just add up.
“I feel like we’ve done a good job but there’s always room for improvement and we’ve got to get better in some areas, and you can see it whether it’s on tape or watching in practice, areas where we need to improve at.”