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Alabama Football 2022 Fall Preview: Quarterbacks — The Heisman winner and then what?

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Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Still, it’s a nice problem to have.

The future is now…and it has to be.

2021 Recap:

Last season, Alabama rolled out a true sophomore had just 22 career attempts. And at times the inexperience showed and it was bumpy road: he had issues holding on to the ball just a split second too long, his early-season deep ball accuracy left much to be desired, and he would take sacks instead of throwing it away. All of these were manifestations of Bryce Young’s inexperience.

But, it’s safe to say that Young rebounded: He finished the year going 347 of 568 for 4,872 yards, tossing 47 touchdowns and adding another three on the ground. Bryce set Alabama single-season records for attempts, completions, yards; he shattered the Tide’s yards in a game mark that had stood for over half a century. And for good measure, he set the new SEC Championship game passing record by one yard…over Mac Jones, and earned the SECCG POTG.

Those accomplishments earned him a decent bit of hardware too:

Heisman Trophy
Maxwell Award
Davey O’Brien Award
Manning Award
AP College Football Player of the Year
Sporting News College Football Player of the Year
Consensus First-Team All-American, First-Team All-SEC
SEC Offensive Player of the Year

Not too bad, kid. Not too bad at all.

But, I think we do have to be cognizant of the very real pressures placed on Young’s shoulders and his limitations and growth curve. He may be a junior, but he has just 15 starts in his career. He’s going to make mistakes; he’s still learning the position; he’s not a veteran even by the standards of other college juniors. We may not even know how good Bryce is until he’s spent a year or two in the NFL.

And, if he fails or falls on the field, Plan B is clear as mud.

So, the message for 2022 has to be “more of the same, but better.” Because as good as Young was, there are still areas that he can improve upon.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s start with a mental exercise: If I gave you these stats would you say this person would win the Heisman: 4872 yards (2nd), 66.9% completion percentage (14th), 8.9 YPA (14th), 47 TDs (2nd), 7 INTs (T-92nd), YPG 324.8 (8th), QBR 7th.

Let’s add that this quarterback was just third in the conference in QBR, 11th in interceptions thrown among other league teams, 5th in conference completion percentage, 4th in YPA, and took the most sacks of any quarterback in major college football?

What if I told you this player completed less than 60% of his passes against the zone, one of every six passes under pressure was a 50-50 ball, and that he barely completed a third of all passes beyond 20 yards?

So, yes, Bryce needs more of that…but better. Specifically:

His reads were already much faster by the end of the season, as he got accustomed to the speed of the game, but there’s always room for improvement. Many of his interceptions were based on his deliveries being just a tad slow, because the read was a half-second slow.
You would like to see a bit more touch on the deep ball. For the year, Young completed 38% of his passes over 25 airborne yards — that is mitigated by a lot of drops, and his first six games where he was completing under 20% of them. For the last half of the season, these were turning into 50-50 balls (52%), but you’d rather see a 70% passer be a little more accurate over the course of the year.

Accuracy under duress: This may be the area where Bryce has shown the most immaturity as a player. When he’s being blitzed, his accuracy left a lot to be desired. Of his inaccurate throws, 91 were wide receiver drops or miscommunications (and that is by far the highest number since the 2006 Crimson Tide team, and almost double of any Saban team in the last decade). That leaves almost 100 tosses that were off the mark. But, what’s striking about those 100 throws that were solely on him? 16.9% were categorized as “toss ups”. There is a reason that Young threw the most interceptions since Jalen Hurts’ freshman season. Yes, yes, I know — he had few reliable options for those 50-50 balls, and the offensive line hung him out to dry a whole bunch, but the odds are good as a high draft selection, any team he is going to play for will have a terrible line as well. Better get used to it.
And that takes us to the final part: taking care of himself and the ball. Bryce took a lot of sacks last year, and while a lot of blame falls at the feet of an awful offensive line, quite a few were the product of hanging on to the ball looking to make a play. To his credit, BY turtles very effectively, and he will scurry out of bounds or surrender himself a lot easier on a scramble than any quarterback of recent memory (Brodie Croyle, maybe?) But his instinct is to keep his eyes downfield and try to make a play. His backside ability to feel the pressure isn’t as great as someone like Tua or Mac, so sometimes you just have to toss it out of bounds and live another day. He is generously listed at 6’0” but Young is likely closer to 5’10 and change. He’s a smaller guy with a massive nine-figure payday in his immediate future: not just for the team and the very real championship goals the 2022 Tide have, but for hims own sake, please throw it away.

Young, and then….?

Sadly, the 2022 Tide finds itself in a similar position as it did last year: set at starter, but then what comes next?

Because Alabama was in so many tight games, and Young was so inexperienced and needed the reps, there simply were not as many opportunities to develop depth at the position as you would like to see in a team that was 13-2 and the national runner-up. Compounding that problem is that the most experienced (and polished) backup, Paul Tyson, hit the Portal at season’s end. That’s probably for the best for him — not only because he can be a legitimate starter elsewhere, but because this University hoards as many ghosts as trophies. And the Bryant shadow will always loom too large for Paul to truly be his own man in Tuscaloosa.

Here’s the returning depth chart stats for the Alabama QB room:

3 of 7 for 41 yards and a score.

That’s Jalen Milroe. That’s Plan B.

To be sure, Milroe has worked hard in the offseason, and he was a different-looking player this spring, but developing him must be part of O’Brien’s larger game-planning this season — that failure to cultivate backups must be reckoned as the one true failure of Sarkisian’s tenure. But, at least in A-Day, JM4 looked to finally be settling in a bit: he was working within the offense with dumpoffs, screens, judicious running. He showed a lively arm, decent accuracy, and a willingness to use his escapability and size to hang in the pocket and look for a throw.

And he is a very big, strong kid too — reminiscent of another Houston quarterback that came through the program recently (in ways both good and bad). I think it is very likely that aside from seeing ample mop up duty, that Milroe will have packages designed for him this season. He can be a weapon, even if he is not yet an every-down starter.

Milroe’s main competition for the backup spot figures to be a player we’ve been high on since he was in high school, Ty Simpson (and yes, we’re sticking by our guns that he’s both a better quarterback than Arch Manning and will have a better career). Simpson consistently showed better accuracy than Manning, better decisions, better mastery of his 2nd- and 3rd reads, and better mechanics. Simpson is an outstanding passer, with exceptional accuracy and arm strength at every level of the field. He has a good command of spread-option too, and you must respect his ability to take off, even if he the best pure passer of the backups.

He’s going to be a star. But for this season, I think we’ll settle for seeing him get some late-game reps in laughers.

The forgotten man here may be 4-star Amanni Stewart, another smart player that makes good decisions with the ball, and shows a willingness to live with incompletions and dump-downs rather than forcing bad throws or taking sacks. He’s relatively buff, strong as an ox (but not Milroe-strong), and is also mobile. But unlike Milroe, Stewart is much more comfortable in the pocket than being the linchpin of an option-based running game — although with his strength, he is a beast in the running game. And one thing I particularly like about Stewart’s game is his ability to keep his eyes downfield, even when running the option or scrambling to make a play. I love those guys always looking for more.

Recruiting services have pegged him as “an impact player” at the FBS level, and the potential is there. Given how deep Alabama’s QB Room is over the next few seasons, I’m just not sure where he’ll be making that impact.

As we wrote at the end of the season, the quarterback position still has plenty of room to grow…and that was before the loss of Tyson. The maturation process for everyone on the depth chart has be that of a game-ready player from Week One. While there is talent, it is raw and unproven. But, on the whole, I think Alabama is in a bit better position this season than last with respect to both starting position and Plan B — let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.

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