Mac Jones Seizes Opportunity As Alabama’s Starter
Nick Saban signed two quarterbacks in the class of 2017. One of them set numerous school records, nearly won a Heisman Trophy and was the No. 5 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
The other patiently waited his turn.
While Jalen Hurts led Alabama to a 26-2 record as a starter, Mac Jones waited. When Tua Tagovailoa saved the day in the national championship, Mac Jones waited.
While the next offseason was consumed with speculation about Hurts and Tagovailoa, Mac Jones stood in the shadows without even a mention.
Now, in his fourth year in the program, Mac Jones is the starting quarterback for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Of Alabama's previous starting quarterbacks under Saban, only Greg McElroy had to wait until his fourth year in Tuscaloosa to become the team's starter.
"Jalen and Tua did it right. Whoever was in the game at the time tried to do their job to the best of their ability, and that's all you can do," Jones said. "You can't focus on everything else, the what-ifs, the this-and-thats. For me, if I'm in the game, get the ball to the right guy, let all the guys make plays and celebrate when we score and have fun. That's all I can do, and everything else will just take care of itself.”
Tonight's season opener at Missouri won't be Jones' first career start; he started four games in place of the injured Tagovailoa last season. But it will be his first start as "the guy."
"Mac has always been a workhorse," senior left tackle Alex Leatherwood said. "Ever since he came on campus he’s been one of our hardest workers. In this fall camp he’s working his ass off. He’s a great team player and a great leader for our team.”
With room to be concerned about the vacancy Tagovailoa may have left on the offense, Jones’ teammates have made it clear that they are behind his leadership and direction.
"You can see he lights a fire under that offense," said sophomore nose tackle D.J. Dale.
Early in his career, though, that fire wasn't always a good thing. Saban mentioned several times that Jones' emotions were hindering his ability to move on from mistakes.
Players look to their quarterback for assurance and confidence, and if the quarterback is rattled, that can affect his teammates.
"I think sometimes in practice, especially when things don’t go exactly like we have them drawn up, he’d sort of overanalyze things a little bit in terms of maybe why it didn’t work rather than just focusing on the next play,” Saban said.
Even during this fall camp, Saban repeatedly said Jones is most effective as a passer and a leader when he stays within himself and stays focused on the next play.
Last year's Iron Bowl — a 48-45 road loss against No. 15 Auburn with a potential College Football Playoff berth on the line — was a turning point for Jones and the way offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian perceived him.
"Mac really had two bad plays in that game," Sarkisian said. "Unfortunately, they were for 14 points for Auburn but the rest of the game. But the guy showed me a lot of toughness, a lot of moxie. [He] stood in there and took hits, rebounded from those difficult plays and drove us down when we needed so got a lot of confidence there."
Senior wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who caught the first and fourth passes in the video above, said earlier this week that Jones has his full confidence as the team's starting quarterback.
"I believe in Mac the same way I believed in Tua," Smith said. "As far as him being a leader, just when we come to the sideline after we take our reps and the things we talk about and what didn’t go right on the play or what we could have done better, that lets me know that he’s in for it and he’s ready to lead the team.”