Sports

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson, the two Alabama players vying to replace Bryce Young as starting quarterback, struggled during the Crimson Tide’s annual A-Day scrimmage on Saturday, throwing a combined three interceptions while completing fewer than half of their passes.

Milroe, a redshirt sophomore and Young’s primary backup last season, threw two picks.

Simpson, a redshirt freshman who attempted only five passes last year, turned the ball over once.

When Alabama coach Nick Saban was asked during his post-game news conference about the value of having those two quarterbacks already in the program versus a player coming in fresh from the transfer portal, he didn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement.

Yes, Saban said Milroe and Simpson had a better understanding of the offense having been in it for more than a year. Plus, they’ve had a lot of reps in practice.

But he also said, “Everybody needs to ask themselves: Are they playing winning football?” And the coach added that those evaluations are ongoing.

Milroe threw two touchdowns and ran for one score, but he also competed barely higher than 50% of his passes (19 of 37).

Simpson, who rushed for 58 yards on six carries, was a paltry 12 of 26 passing with no touchdowns.

“We’ve tried to build this program here with the guys that we recruit and the people in the program,” Saban said, “but we have had a few guys that have come in and made real impacts on the team, and if we see an opportunity to do that, we’re always looking for a way to make our team better.”

Saban said he was pleased with the two true freshmen quarterbacks, Dylan Lonergan and Eli Holstein, who were the No. 5 and No. 6 rated pocket passers in the 2023 class, respectively.

Saban said that Lonergan showed more “poise” in the pocket whereas Holstein appeared to be in a hurry. But Holstein was hurt by a few dropped passes.

“I’m pleased with the progress they’re making and I think they both have bright futures,” Saban said.

But by all accounts, the competition centers around Milroe and Simpson.

Saban said the “big thing we’re working on” is the quarterbacks’ ability to process what the defense is doing.

“Are they playing Cover 2, are they playing Cover 7, are they playing three-deep zone?” Saban said. “So that way you have a plan in your mind, ‘This is what I’m reading, this is where I’m going and this is the progression that I want to go through,’ and trust in that and believe that and not start drifting around in the pocket before you give up on what your read might be. Because I think we have pretty good skill guys. I think we have guys that can make plays.

“. .. I like both guys athleticism to be able to extend plays and get out of trouble and make plays with their feet, which they did a couple times today. But at the same time, I think we’ve got to work on going through progressions and develop confidence in the passing game so that we can distribute the ball to other people who can make plays more effectively and more efficiently.”

Overall, Saban said he was pleased with the way the team navigated spring practice.

“I really like the spirit and energy of the team,” he said.

Freshman running back Justice Haynes was a standout, leading all rushers with two touchdowns. He also caught four passes for 40 yards and a score.

Saban said he liked the team’s toughness and physicality.

“I think we have better practice habits than we’ve had in the past,” Saban said.

Malachi Moore, who shifted from safety to cornerback after multiple players left via the portal, led the team with three sacks.

Last year, Alabama lost two games during the regular season and missed out on the SEC Championship Game and the College Football Playoff.

The Crimson Tide will open next season at home against Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 2. The following week, they will host Texas.

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