MIRAMAR BEACH – Tua Tagovailoa might not be shouldering the burden of having to win the starting job like he did a year ago, but Alabama’s rising junior quarterback still has a bit of pressure coming from on high.
When asked about his quarterback situation this offseason, Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said he wants his reigning Heisman Trophy runner-up to approach this offseason with a big chip on his shoulder.
“I think Tua has to challenge himself a little bit to get back to … I think being hurt was an issue for him at the end of the season and I think that he has to challenge himself to get back into great shape and overcome some of the things that happened toward the end of the year,” Saban said Tuesday during a brief press conference on the first day of SEC Spring Meetings inside the Sandestin Beach Hilton. “I think he should take the perception that he has a lot to prove relative to how we ended the season. I think our whole team fits into that category.”
While Tagovailoa certainly impressed with his play as a first-time starter last season, during which he set multiple single-season program passing marks with 3,966 passing yards, 43 passing touchdowns and 48 total scores in 2018, the Hawaiian southpaw also admittedly struggled down the stretch against more elite level defenses.
Against Georgia in the SEC Championship game, an injured Tagovailoa was vastly inconsistent completing 10-of-25 passes for 164 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions before backup Jalen Hurts entered and led a four-quarter comeback.
A month later in the national championship game against Clemson, Tagovailoa appeared out of sync all night while completing 22-of-34 passes for 295 yards with two touchdowns and two costly interceptions, including one that the Tigers returned for a touchdown for the first score of the game.
“Well, it’s kind of hard because, after a game like that, I mean everyone has their heads down. I mean, you as a leader, you just came off a loss, so I think it’s hard in a situation like that because you don’t have anything to look forward to after a game like that because that’s your last game,” Tagovailoa told ESPN this weekend at the Steve Clarkson Quarterback Retreat in Los Angeles, according to 247Sports.com. “As far as what we’re trying to do to regroup and rebuild as a team, we’re not trying to worry about what happened last year. We’re just trying to see what we can do to better ourselves and see what we can to do to become successful this year.”
Saban also appeared to indicate his intention to give several of Alabama’s younger, less-experienced quarterbacks – among them sophomore backup Mac Jones and true freshmen Taulia Tagovailoa and Paul Tyson – plenty of opportunities both during preseason practice in August and at some point early next season in order to possibly further speed up their development in case they’re needed.
“The other quarterbacks that obviously are developing and have done some good things, and obviously have some things that they need to continue to work on,” Saban said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get them some positive improvement over the summer and in fall camp, and then we’ll have an opportunity to get them some kind of experience level early in the season that might benefit them if they need it down the road.”
Ole Miss’ Luke says Ruggs transfer was mutual: Former Ole Miss linebacker Kevontae Ruggs entered the NCAA’s transfer portal three weeks ago and remains in limbo after opting to leave Oxford due to "personal" reasons.
Rebels head coach Matt Luke, speaking on the first day of SEC Spring Meetings at the Sandestin Beach Hilton, described Ruggs’ departure as mutual, especially after the sophomore from Montgomery's Robert E. Lee High School was suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules during spring practice.
“It was just time, so mutually it was best for him and for us just to part ways,” Luke said of Ruggs.
The 6-foot-3, 202-pound outside linebacker was a three-star prospect in 2018 and chose Ole Miss over offers from in-state Alabama and Florida Atlantic. Ruggs started three games as a true freshman, racking up 16 total tackles, one fumble recovery and one quarterback hurry in 11 appearances last season.
Luke suggested that Ruggs, the younger brother of Alabama junior receiver Henry Ruggs III, may have been unhappy with his role with the team after his suspension.
“I think any time that it doesn’t always go exactly like you want it to, there’s always that possibility,” Luke said. “Again, we wish Kevontae nothing but the best moving forward. I just think sometimes it’s time to move on and he thought it was best for him, so we support him 100 percent.”
Most of Alabama’s early enrollees on campus: Monday was D-day for a majority of Alabama’s remaining 2019 signees to get to campus ahead of this week’s first summer semester, which begins Wednesday.
Of course, there are still a handful of the 12 remaining newcomers that have yet to formally enroll in classes, but Saban didn’t seem at all concerned about the stragglers.
“We have several guys who still have to graduate from school, where their school still isn’t out yet but we hope they’ll be there within the next week,” Saban said Tuesday. “Our players, most of them are coming back tonight between 5 and 8. We actually start summer classes on Wednesday and we’ll start our (offseason workout) program on Thursday.”