MOBILE — Even with six in-state players in attendance this week, several of whom are potential Day 1 picks in April’s NFL Draft, the most intriguing name at this year’s Senior Bowl is a former Alabama player beloved as much for what he didn’t do as what he did.
Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts — the one-time Crimson Tide starter-turned-backup — is arguably the biggest name in Mobile this week and for good reason. The dual-threat quarterback is not only a statewide celebrity for his time in Tuscaloosa but a fascinating option for NFL teams eager to tap into the success of athletically gifted signal callers such as Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes.
“I think the biggest thing for me is trying to be the best version of myself, showcasing what I can do, executing whatever it is, winning and doing it (all) at a high level,” Hurts said Monday during the Senior Bowl’s introductory press conference inside the Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel in Mobile.
Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy announced Monday night that Hurts will be sporting a customized Crimson helmet in Saturday’s game that honors both Alabama and Oklahoma with the No. 2 from his time with the Crimson Tide on the left side and the Sooners’ “OU” logo on the right side. Hurts will still wear a No. 1 Senior Bowl jersey in the game after sporting that number this past season at Oklahoma.
“This is amazing — that’s cool, cool stuff,” Hurts said of his customized helmet. “Just being here, having the opportunity to play here, being back in Alabama representing two great schools, showcasing my abilities. I’m looking forward to it.”
As one of three quarterbacks on the South roster, along with Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Colorado’s Steven Montez, Hurts will also have the opportunity to once again be on the same sideline as several former Alabama teammates, as well as a couple of familiar faces from rival Auburn.
“Jalen's come a long, long way, he really has," Nagy said of Hurts. "And he's so beloved, it was an easy (decision to invite him) for us. ... For down here, he's such a beloved guy, ... playing another game in Alabama. ... I'm excited for game day, because I think the Tide fan base should come out and support Jalen. It's our opportunity to show him our appreciation."
Among the Alabama players in attendance in Mobile include defensive end Raekwdon Davis, outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings, safety Jared Mayden as well as graduated redshirt junior linebacker Terrell Lewis. Auburn’s Senior Bowl contingent includes defensive lineman Marlon Davidson and offensive tackle Prince Tega Wanogho.
The 6-foot-7 Davis is a physical specimen who some mock drafts have being selected in the middle of Round 1, while Jennings and Mayden are more Day 2 options, while Davidson and Wanogho are potential options early on Rounds 2-3. But the one Crimson Tide player Nagy is most captivated by is Lewis, who opted to forgo the team’s Citrus Bowl appearance last month in favor of an early start to his pre-draft workout regime.
“Terrell Lewis from Alabama, his medical is going to be big, but that dude’s unique,” Nagy said. “Terrell Lewis is almost impossible to give a player comp for because he’s got that long, stringy body but he’s got like Mike Tyson hands. Those long guys can’t generate power well and this dude is so explosive. He’s just been banged up a bunch. … It’s all going to come down to how that (medical) stuff checks out, but talent-wise, shoot, he’s a top 15 pick.”
Given some of his issues at Alabama, Hurts isn’t drawing anything close to Day 1 consideration, with many scouts and talent evaluators critiquing everything from his 6-foot-2 size to his accuracy and consistency , which are things Nagy identified as areas he’ll need to answer for this week.
"He had some really good games early in the year, and he's seeing the field a lot better than he ever has, and I think that comes with experience at the position with anyone," Nagy said. "But going back to a couple of years ago, his freshman and sophomore years (at Alabama), he's definitely seeing things a lot better, his eyes are quicker."
Hurts, who famously led the Crimson Tide to a fourth-quarter comeback win over Georgia in the 2018 SEC Championship in place of an injured Tua Tagovailoa, finished as runner-up for this season’s Heisman Trophy after ranking third nationally with 5,149 total yards and 53 total touchdowns in his lone season with the Big 12 champion Sooners.
That came after leaving Alabama as a graduate transfer following three roller-coaster seasons in Tuscaloosa, where he was 26-2 in two seasons as the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback before losing his spot to Tagovailoa prior to the 2018 season.
“I don’t think there’s any experience that I’d go back and exchange or change,” Hurts said. “I think everything’s happened for a reason. It’s all happened as it’s suppose to. I think I’m stronger, wiser, a better man, a better player, a leader (because of) everything.”
For his collegiate career, Hurts compiled more than 12,000 yards and 123 total touchdowns between Alabama and Oklahoma. But it wasn’t until his senior season that he answered many naysayers regarding his ability as a passer, throwing for 3,851 yards and 32 touchdowns with nearly 70-percent passing under the tutelage of Sooners head coach and renown quarterback whisperer Lincoln Riley.
It’s that experience playing under multiple offensive systems – including five different offensive coordinators during his four-year collegiate career – that could give Hurts somewhat of an advantage working within the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive system this week. Not that Hurts himself is taking the challenge lightly.
“The reality is, I’ve got to learn it,” Hurts said. “It takes hard work, it takes studying like in the past. But I’m looking forward to mastering this challenge and trying to execute it at a high level this week.”