Yeah, it was a spring game, but let's lower our expectations for the Alabama quarterbacks
Let’s get out ahead of it.
Yeah, it was a spring game. When Malachi Moore is shouting “SACK! SACK! SACK!” after getting a hand on Jalen Milroe, take that for what it is. And sure, spring wasn’t going to be the time to see the full arsenal from new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, who is still getting his feet wet after less than 3 months on the job. Expecting Ty Simpson to carve up Alabama’s defense was probably unrealistic.
But yes, we need to dial back our expectations of Alabama’s quarterbacks. The spring game should’ve served as a reminder of that.
Crisp, it was not. The 3 interceptions at the end of the first half didn’t make Nick Saban happy — 1 was a Hail Mary to the end zone — and surely the drops from expected key contributors Jermaine Burton and Isaiah Bond didn’t exactly speed up the hype train (Saban said they had more drops than they had all spring). Milroe’s decision-making remains an issue, and while Simpson is my pick to win the job, to say that he was vastly better than Milroe would be untrue.
Is the sky falling? No, but expectations should be.
To be fair, expectations should be high at a place who watched every first-time starter under Saban at least win the SEC in their first season. Well, except for AJ McCarron, who didn’t win the SEC in Year 1 in 2011 … but he still won a national title that first season.
This is Alabama, AKA the place where the last 4 starting quarterbacks either became SEC Offensive Player of the Year or a Heisman Trophy finalist.
(You could actually say they all became a Heisman finalist because technically, Jalen Hurts did that in 2019, but I didn’t want to include that because he did so at Oklahoma.)
This is the program who boasted 5 consecutive years of top-20 passing offenses, and it ranked in the top 20 in passing touchdowns in each of the last 6 seasons.
Those marks can’t last forever.
Maybe Simpson or Milroe will continue that. Saturday didn’t exactly turn skeptics into believers, though. They didn’t execute Saban’s spring focus for his signal-callers. That is, “stop making the plays that beat us.” Milroe throwing off his back foot deep in his own end zone on a ball to nobody didn’t stick to that, and neither did Simpson’s red-zone interception wherein Earl Little make a ridiculous diving interception on a play that could’ve been 6.
Saban was asked afterwards by Jordan Rodgers what he wants to see with the person who wins this job.
“Play winning football,” Saban said. “We’ve got to eliminate the bad plays and we had too many bad plays.”
Yep. You can take high interception rates if you’ve got someone with upside like what we saw with the Year 2 versions of Jameis Winston or Deshaun Watson. But nobody on that Alabama roster is getting comps like that. At least not yet.
And for all the speculation about Miami (FL) quarterback Tyler Van Dyke having Alabama interest, keep something else in mind. The track record for post-spring quarterback transfers isn’t great. At least not in that first year. The best post-spring quarterback transfer in recent memory was Joe Burrow, who was a much different player in Year 1 at LSU than he was in Year 2. Alabama won’t make a quarterback move with next year in mind.
Even if the Tide elect to dip into the portal before the window closes next weekend and that guy becomes the starter, expectations should be limited. In an unproven receiver room with a relatively unproven offensive coordinator, this is a different set of circumstances that we’re used to talking about with Alabama.
Maybe the expectations should get back to 2015 levels. That year, Jake Coker stepped into the starting role after being blocked to win the starting job at Florida State by the aforementioned Winston. That was the last time that the Tide had double-digit interceptions in a season. Coker was also brilliant in some key moments down the stretch, and he helped the Tide end a 2-year “drought” without a title.
(It also probably helped that it takes a village to bring down Derrick Henry, and it’s fair to say that defenses were more focused on containing him and not dropping extra guys in coverage.)
This Alabama team is in a similar spot. Two seasons without winning it all is an eternity in Tuscaloosa. Anything less than winning it all and this would be the first streak of 3 consecutive seasons without a national title for Saban’s Alabama.
There’s urgency to get this right, and not just because Texas awaits in Week 2. You could sense Saban’s frustration when he talked about the quarterbacks. The mistakes continued to be an issue. It’s great that Milroe can make a jaw-dropping play with his legs or his arm on occasion, and there’s no doubt that when Simpson floats a ball perfectly into the arms of Burton, you can picture a 57-yard gain like that happening when it counts. But neither one of them have shown yet that you can take the good with their bad.
That’s the issue. Pocket presence can’t lack in this league. Milroe struggled with sensing backside pressure, much like he did in his limited meaningful reps last year filling in for the injured Bryce Young. Simpson struggled with not prematurely rolling out of the pocket.
Can these things be fixed? Sure. Maybe they will be and both signal-callers will go on to become stars.
But at the very least, all indications are that Alabama’s quarterbacks are still very much a work in progress. We didn’t get the promising previous season sample sizes that we got from Young, Mac Jones or Tua Tagovailoa. At least not from a passing standpoint.
Rees is expected get Alabama back to a more run-heavy offense. That could end up being partially by choice and partially out of necessity. Time will tell.
For now, though, let’s just dial it back. If a superstar blossoms, we can reset expectations again.
And if that doesn’t happen, well, the sky might be falling after all.