It was supposed to be a down year for the Alabama Crimson Tide but it's mid-October and Nick Saban's club is right where they always are this time of year: Atop the polls.
And a huge part of that success can be attributed quarterback Jalen Hurts. After losing Jacob Coker off last year's title team, it was assumed that Blake Barnett or Cooper Bateman would be the Tide's starting quarterback. But Hurts won the job and now we're seeing why. He's thrown for nine touchdowns and just three interceptions, while rushing for 428 yards and eight touchdowns.
Saban knows exactly what he has in Hurts and says the budding star is unlike any freshman or any player he's ever coached.
"Just like little kids, (true freshmen) go from toy to toy to toy, right? When they're 3 years old, 5 years old, whatever," Saban said (via AL.com). "They've got no focus, no concentration. It's hard for them to stick with things. We deal with the same thing when we've got young players. They can't stay as focused as the juniors and the seniors on all the little details – every day in practice and preparation and all that type of stuff.
"Jalen is probably as mature and does it as well as anybody I've ever seen at his age. But still, we're trying to help bring him along in all these circumstances and all these situations. There's nobody on our team that wants to do that more than he does. So he sort of welcomes it. He's very self-critical. So when you bring something up to him, it's kind of like, 'I get that.' Maybe it's because his dad was a coach. I don't really know. But he's one of the easiest guys to manage in that circumstance that I've ever been around at his age."
Saban has coached dozens of NFL players, so to hear him speak so highly of Hurts just shows how special he is. Saban has coached some of the hardest workers in the sport like Julio Jones, Amari Cooper and Derek Henry, to name a few -- and Hurts has a focus and drive unlike any of them.
For someone so young, nothing seems to faze Hurts. Even in road games against Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee, he has been unflappable. He even showed off a little swag against the Vols last weekend.
Saban also noted that Hurts not only accepts criticism, but he embraces it.
"I think (that poise is) all part of his psychological disposition of not letting things affect him, being self-critical, knowing when you made a mistake, being able to focus on the next play, learning from the mistakes that he makes," Saban said.... "If you can't be self-critical or you're defensive toward any kind of correction or criticism, it makes it very difficult for you to learn and grow. I think one of his greatest assets is that he's like a sponge when it comes to those type of things, and I think that enhances his development, and he's probably where he is now as a freshman because of that. He's been that way for a long time, and that's all been helpful to his development and his maturity."
While Alabama will have plenty to be concerned about as they face their two toughest opponents in the next two weeks, Hurts is someone that Saban doesn't have to worry about.