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Injury puts Alabama's intriguing QB battle on hold for now

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa throws during the NCAA college football team's spring practice Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)

By JOHN ZENOR

AP Sports Writer

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Alabama's quarterback competition could be on hold, at least briefly.

The defending national champion Crimson Tide opened spring practice Tuesday with an intriguing battle between two-year starter Jalen Hurts, who's 26-2 in that role, and title game hero Tua Tagovailoa. It won't hit full steam until Tagovailoa recovers from a thumb injury on his throwing hand that he sustained in the first practice.

Coach Nick Saban said Tagovailoa would be evaluated in Birmingham to determine the nature of the injury.

"I think in a few days Tua will probably be able to do some things but when you hurt your thumb on your throwing hand, it's kind of hard to grip the ball so I think that's going to be the issue," he said.

Saban is already trying to place a firm grip on any notion that there's a quarterback controversy brewing while praising the attitudes of both players.

"Both those guys have been great," he said. "I know that every time I stand up here, y'all (reporters) are going to try to make something out of it that it isn't. It's two good players that both can contribute to our team and we're going to give them both an opportunity to do that.

"They've been great with each other. They've been great for each other. They've both shown leadership for our team. They're both important to our team."

A snapshot look at the quarterback contenders:

-Hurts has led Alabama to two straight national title games. The SEC offensive player of the year as a freshman, he has accounted for nearly 6,700 yards of total offense the past two seasons, rushing for 21 touchdowns and passing for 40. Hurts passed for just 21 yards in the first half of the championship game against Georgia.

-Tagovailoa, a five-star recruit from Hawaii, came in for the second half of the title game. He rallied the Tide from a 13-0 deficit and launched a 41-yard touchdown pass to fellow freshman DeVonta Smith in overtime to win the game. Tagovailoa was the game's offensive MVP. He delivered when given the chance in mop-up duties throughout the season.

"We're giving both guys an opportunity and we'll see how they compete and see how they do," Saban said. "We don't have any decisions. We're not speculating on any decisions but we're just going to be fair and honest in terms of how we give both players a chance to compete."

Alabama must replace five early NFL draft departures, including safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne and wide receiver Calvin Ridley.

The Tide also has six new assistant coaches and promoted Mike Locksley to offensive coordinator and Tosh Lupoi to defensive coordinator.

"I think we're very, very fortunate and hit a home run with the guys that we were able to hire," Saban said.

NOTES: Former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones was officially cleared by the NCAA to work for the Tide as an analyst on Tuesday, Saban said. ... Several players will miss all or most of spring. Starting right tackle Matt Womack had foot surgery for an injury that he aggravated during spring break. ... Linebacker Anfernee Jennings will likely sit out spring while recovering from a left knee injury suffered during the Sugar Bowl win over Clemson. Backup tailback Josh Jacobs had ankle surgery but may return and participate in some drills during the spring. ... Linebacker Keith Holcombe is focusing on baseball this spring and will decide afterward if he wants to play football as a fifth-year senior.

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Updated March 20, 2018

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