Barry Jackson

What you should know about Hurts as UM pursues Alabama QB and Hurts shows some interest

UM’s pursuit of Alabama grad transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts began in earnest this week, and Hurts appears intrigued.

As of Thursday morning, the three people he most recently had followed on Twitter were all Hurricanes: coach Manny Diaz, tight end Brevin Jordan and running back DeeJay Dallas. And Diaz followed Hurts on Twitter, for what it’s worth.

Hurts – who lost his starting job to Tua Tagovailoa this past season — has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal but hasn’t announced if he’s definitely transferring. He will have plenty of options, but among the top contenders for him, Miami might represent the easiest path to a starting job.

He’s eligible to play immediately as a senior, and it’s highly likely he would start UM’s opener against UF if he comes to Miami.

Some tidbits on what Miami would be getting if it lands Hurts:

Three numbers that most stand out about Hurts: 1) The 26-2 record as a starter. Yes, he’s surrounded by elite talent, but the guy’s a proven winter.

2) In his final year as a starter (2017), he threw just one interception in 255 passes — by far the most throws in the country for anyone who threw that few picks. In his career, he has just 12 interceptions in 707 pass attempts, an excellent ratio.

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3) Hurts has been involved in 71 scoring plays in 42 games — a really impressive number. That includes 48 touchdown passes and 23 touchdowns running.

Hurts earned universal praise for coming off the bench in the SEC Championship Game last month and leading Alabama to a comeback win over Georgia. Hurts finished 7 of 9 for 82 yards and a touchdown and had five carries for 28 yards and a score.

“I’ve probably never been more proud of a player than Jalen,” coach Nick Saban said that day. “It’s unprecedented to have a guy that won as many games as he won, I think 26 or something, over a two-year period, start as a freshman, only lose a couple of games this whole time that he was the starter, and then all of the sudden he’s not the quarterback.

“How do you manage that? How do you handle that? You’ve got to have a tremendous amount of character and class to put the team first, knowing your situation is not what it used to be, and for a guy that’s a great competitor, that takes a lot.”

Here’s how Hurts measured up nationally as a starter in 2017: He was 56th in completion percentage (60.6), tied for 50th in touchdown throws (17), 72nd in yards passing (2081) and ninth in rushing yards with 855.

This past season, he appeared in 13 games – sometimes at the same time as Tagovailoa – and completed 51 of 70 passes for 765 yards, with eight touchdowns, two interceptions and 36 carries for 167 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 16 yards.

One criticism of Hurts has been some downfield passing games. He began the 2017 season 2 for 18 on balls thrown at least 20 yards downfield. A lot of his throws were screens and short routes.

Pro Football Focus analyst Zac Robinson, who generally praised Hurts: “He had some ugly misses so you get caught up in that. He has a Tyrod Taylor play to him. Will have some inaccuracies down to down. Can play it too safe sometimes.”

PFF’s Steve Palazzolo said overall, “10 plus yards down the field, he’s pretty efficient. [But] I don’t think [Hurts is] a guy you put the ball in his hands 40 times and say win the game for us.”

Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, last January, on Hurts: “He’s a complete quarterback. He can do it all. The throws that he makes from the pocket, the throws he makes outside of the pocket when he improvises and makes things happen when plays break down, designed quarterback runs and just poise and being a leader and the competitive toughness he has it all.”

Gary Danielson, CBS’ lead analyst on Southeastern Conference games, offered this candid assessment to Alabama radio station The Tide 102.9 about Hurts at SEC media day last July:

“He knows how to throw. He knows how to be a good leader. He has great toughness. He really doesn’t understand how to distribute the ball and see the cracks in the defense before they appear. He’s pretty good at delivering the ball to open guys. He has a good deep arm. He’s courageous. He’s a great leader, but there are subtleties of playing quarterback that are unteachable.

“They come pretty easy to Drew Brees or a Matt Stafford or even a Tua Tagovailoa. Tua sees spaces and opportunities out there a lot of guys don’t see, even professional guys.

“Jalen has to learn how to play quarterback. That means dropping back in the pocket, feeling where the pressure is, knowing where the dump offs are, understanding that certain zones are man, where they are most vulnerable, how to look off the safeties.”

Here’s a good story from ESPN’s Alex Scarborough in a December 2017 profile of Hurts:

“When the four-star Hurts played for Averion at Channelview High School in Houston, a rival coach once told his father, “Your son is the real deal, but he’s got to show other kids emotion so they play harder.”

Hurts relented and began the act of brushing off the front of his jersey after rushing touchdowns. Nothing outlandish. Just a quiet show of confidence. He stared straight ahead, wiped himself down and moved along.

“Where did that come from?” Averion asked his son.

“They told me I had to do something,” Hurts replied. “That’s all I could think of.”...

Said Averion: “With him, you can tell him something and you’ll never know if you pissed him off. So Coach Saban had his hands full at first. He’s a great amateur psychologist, but he’s never had a kid like him. He’s never had a quarterback that is so mellow. Sometimes people think he’s acting like he’s cool. He’s just a laid-back dude.”

But Hurts has improved his leadership.

“A guy who isn’t afraid to stand up in team meetings, a guy who isn’t afraid to voice his opinions or call people out for not preparing or practicing to the standard of what we want to do around here,” Alabama running back Damien Harris told the Orlando Sentinel last January. “I think that’s the biggest thing, the signs of a true leader.”

Hurts’ career passer rating, using the NFL formula in 103.2. By contrast, N’Kosi Perry’s is 77.8.

The Birmingham News on Thursday listed UM, Florida, Houston, Maryland and TCU as top options for Hurts and predicts he will end up at Maryland because “there would be an automatic comfort level for Hurts in following former Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley to Maryland, both in terms of personal relationships and familiarity with the offense.”

Hurts, by the way, was the first freshman QB to start for Saban. And he helped guide Alabama to the college football playoff that season.

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