Previewing the 2022 Crimson Tide: Quarterbacks
Every week in the lead up to the 2022 season, I'll break down a position group, a Crimson Tide player and an SEC team here on Tide 100.9. With it being the first week, what better place to start than with the quarterbacks.
Heading into the 2022 college football season, the wisest of experts would be hard-pressed to find a quarterback room more stacked than the one in Tuscaloosa. A returning Heisman Trophy winner, arguably the most gifted athlete on the entire roster and a promising 5-star freshman make up the signal callers of Nick Saban's offense in 2022.
Still, there's some slight concern for the room as a collective. After all, three scholarship quarterbacks don't make for the ideal situation for Saban. Usually, the benchmark is four. With the nature of the Transfer Portal in today's landscape, it's likely Saban may have to abandon that comfort, as the fourth man, Paul Tyson, headed to Arizona State earlier this year.
Regardless, the squad is stacked with talent, which we'll break down individually in just a moment. First, it's worth acknowledging the impressive athleticism at the position. There are no true traditional pocket passers on the depth chart. Since each passer has similar traits, the playbook remains the same for the most part should Milroe or Simpson ever have to touch the field for an extended time.
On top of that, they each have either proven to have exceptional talent or have shown exceptional potential.
What do you say about Bryce Young that hasn't been said? He won the Heisman Trophy despite losing many skill players throughout the season and playing behind one of, if not the, worst offensive lines during the Saban era. As a result, he's projected to be a top-3 selection in next year's NFL Draft.
Of course, there's still one more season to go, a season Alabama fans hope ends with him hoisting the national championship alongside his individual awards.
So what does Young have to do to improve in 2022? It's quick-time decision-making.
I get it, I'm being critical for the sake of analysis, but every player knows he's not a perfect product, and Young is no exception. He might have a laundry list of improvements for himself, but I'll stick to this one.
Think back to Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones and the efficiency with which both quarterbacks ran this offense. For both players, it was nearly flawless execution. A reasonable argument that both players had better talent around them can be made. And I'd agree. I already brought it up, but the talent around him did Young no favors in this area, but the point stands.
But take a step back further, and you'll see that Mac Jones made the kind of leap I'm suggesting Young needs to make. Jones ran the offense well in relief of Tagovailoa in 2019. 2020 was nearly flawless. Jones trusted the offense, trusted his players and trusted his reads.
I'm not suggesting Young lacks trust but pulling the trigger to the correct read a second sooner will allow him to circumvent the problem with his pass protection.
On this play in the Iron Bowl, Young has Jahleel Billingsley open on the shallow cross. With the immediate pressure he gets, Young shouldn't be forcing a late pass over the middle. The pressure disrupts the late throw and it's a relatively easy interception for Auburn.
This is where Young's mobility almost creates a problem for him that didn't exist with Tagovailoa or Jones. While mobile, Tagovailoa pulled the trigger on the correct read with great quickness and accuracy. Jones wasn't mobile, but he did just the same. For Young, though he efforts to be a pass-first quarterback, the fact that he knows he can buy time for a better option can result in him making a worse decision.
Sure, it pays off in touchdowns from time to time, so it's nothing overtly worrisome in his makeup as a player, but the factor remains.
On the other hand, his accuracy is nearly unrivaled in college football. While his accuracy percentages don't touch Jones yet, Young having to scramble for his life weighs on the numbers. The stats sort of lie here.
Comparing his anticipation and ball placement with every other quarterback in the country would leave him in the top one percent alongside Ohio State's CJ Stroud, hence the NFL's supreme interest in both players. Stroud may have a bit more velocity in his arm strength, but the two are neck and neck in every category.
Safe to say, regardless of the improvements made on the offensive line, or whoever is catching Young's passes, he'll be commanding the ship with supreme confidence and execution.
Since stepping foot on campus, Jalen Milroe has been lauded as one of the Crimson Tide's best overall athletes. That's a Hell of a compliment and luckily we finally got to see some of it on display at the 2022 A-Day Spring game.
That day, Milroe rushed for 44 yards and likely would have had much more, including a touchdown, if not for protecting him as a quarterback.
But none of that was overly surprising. It's fun to watch him run around the yard, but it's not his main focus as improving as a quarterback.
When he first arrived, I remember seeing a video of Milroe throwing alongside Bryce Young and Paul Tyson. His throwing motion lacked control and was a bit loopier than Young's and Tyson's.
Back in April, we saw a different throwing motion. One that was much more refined, controlled and had a snap to it. There's still some work to be done, no doubt, but his improvements are noted and impressive.
As for his decision-making, it could use some work. He did force some passes at A-Day amidst pressure, including an ill-advised lob toward the sideline that resulted in a Kristian Story interception.
All that said, he has tremendous zip on his throws and appears to have a firm grasp of the offense. It's possible Saban trots No. 2 out for a few designed runs this season just as he did in 2021, but in the event that he gets clean-up duty or extended playing time, the offense shouldn't change too drastically which is a massive step from last year.
There was plenty to like about Ty Simpson's first outing in Bryant-Denny Stadium in April. As it stands, he's firmly the No. 3 guy on the depth chart, but when your play can give me Zach Wilson vibes, it's nothing but a good thing for a 5-star freshman.
There's a long way to go in his decision-making and command of the offense, which is to be expected. Still, Simpson has a great throwing motion, a ton of velocity and athleticism that appears to translate to the SEC level well.
While we won't see him on the field much outside of deep cleaning duty (I should trademark that one) or the most catastrophic of circumstances, the future appears to be in good hands at the moment.
In time, Simpson will learn to trust the offense and be able to progress his reads. In the meantime, we can just marvel at his arm strength and athleticism as he prepares himself to be an SEC starter.