When LSU’s Joe Burrow announced he would not attend the 2020 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., the attention turned to the South roster. Two quarterbacks, Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts, both known for their background in winning cultures, would benefit from the former Bayou Bengal bowing out to spend time with his family.
As Oregon’s Herbert steps foot at the podium, the questions are simple. They range from his accuracy to mental motions and systems that have transitioned over from his time in Eugene. As the dual-school Hurts sits down, the questions are similar — yet far more blunt, never to be asked to anyone else there.
“What if quarterback doesn’t work out for you? Would you be willing to switch positions?”
Hurts, with a pinnacle pedigree of program training in media culture, smiled away at the thought of changing roles at the next level. Ever the teammate and one to embrace adversity, the former Alabama and Oklahoma passer couldn’t wait to respond.
“I think I’m a quarterback,” Hurts said. “I’ve played it all my life, and that’s what I’m intending to play. I’ve always been a team-first guy, but I’m a quarterback.”
#Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts was asked if he would be open to playing a different position in the NFL:
“I’ve always been a team first guy, but I’m a quarterback.” pic.twitter.com/EJ84PLgjmg
— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) January 21, 2020
In 2018, former Louisville quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson was asked by one team to potentially switch positions. All that followed after three seasons where he threw for 67 career touchdowns, over 9,000 passing yards and notched 50 scores on the ground.
Later this month, the Baltimore Ravens quarterback will likely hoist his first MVP trophy, and be the second-straight gunslinger to hoist the award in just his second season.
So, why is Hurts under scrutiny?
Perhaps it’s due to the lost battle found in Tuscaloosa. As the tale as old as time goes, Hurts was benched for Tua Tagovailoa in the second half of the National Championship. The flying Hawaiian would lead a comeback and eventually be named the starter moving forward for the 2018 season.
But the real way to look at it is at the fact he’s earned the right to play. One glance at the history books is all one needs to see to understand why he’s under center and not changing the role heading into April’s anticipated draft.
“Jalen’s come a long, long way. He really has,” Senior Bowl Director Jim Nagy said. “People asked me about Jalen when I took the job and I said maybe if he comes to the Senior Bowl in a couple of years it might be as another position player. He’s blown that out. He’s come so far.”
A quarterback who made headlines for his ability to squat near 500-pounds during his senior season at Channelview High School in Texas impressed Nick Saban. Three months into his time at Tuscaloosa, the quarterback built like a fullback was getting the starting job under center. He was the man to lead college football’s villainous program over the likes of players such as five-star recruit Blake Barnett.
As an 18-year-old on the biggest stage in the Southeastern Conference, Hurts delivered. A win over Washington down in Atlanta led the Tide back to the postseason. Granted, he underachieved with 57 passing yards against Washington, relying on his defense to lead the way. Against Clemson, his 68-yard touchdown pass to OJ Howard and 30-yard touchdown run gave the Tide a 31-28 lead with over two minutes left to play.
Then Deshaun Watson Waston’d a drive that ended with ageless wonder Hunter Renfrow in the back of the end zone with a second to spare. Go figure — that pesky second with Alabama.
Despite the feat of never winning a National Title, Hurts has excelled both on and off the field. For his career, the now 21-year old prospect has thrown for over 10,000 yards and 80 touchdowns — 13 more than the aforementioned Jackson. On the ground, Hurts has tallied 40 scores and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark with his legs for the first time this past season.
Jalen Hurts will wear a helmet to honor his time at both Alabama and Oklahoma in this year's Senior Bowl 🙏
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) January 21, 2020
All those skills could transition to another position and Hurts would likely thrive at it. That’s what winners do, and the son of “Yellowhammer State” has done just that — if not more.
“He’s been successful everywhere he’s been,” Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “He really is a little bit like an NFL quarterback in the sense that he had to go quickly and pick up an offense and really prove himself as a leader in a new program in a short period of time, which he did. He had a great year.”
Hurts went 26-2 as a starter for Alabama. One loss came against a team that hoisted the trophy, and the other to rival Auburn. How many quarterbacks in a career could say that? Even when transferring to Oklahoma, Hurts delivered once more, throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 32 scores. Tack on another 20 touchdowns with his legs.
His losses? An upset to Kansas State and another to the eventual champions of the NCAA.
Jalen Hurts was asked if he’d be open to switching positions in the NFL.
“I’ve always been a team-first guy, but I’m a quarterback.”
Reminder of what Hurts did as a senior:
◽️ 3,851 yards
◽️ 69.7 completion %
◽️ 191.2 rating
◽️ 32 TD | 8 INT
◽️ 12-2 record pic.twitter.com/gvBSWOrQFj
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) January 22, 2020
“Both schools are great schools,” Hurts said of his college career. “The appreciation for them both, the love I have for them both will never go away. They’ve accepted me at both schools. Not many people can say they’ve experienced that, that they have that at two different schools. So I’m thankful for it.”
How many players can win over two of college football’s most beloved, yet hated fan bases? Hurts might be the one survivor, as his Senior Bowl helmet will represent his time at both schools. There’s no ill-wil from the Crimson Tide faithful as the lost son of Saban returns to a place he once called his home.
🤝 @JalenHurts reunites with Nick Saban at the Senior Bowl
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) January 23, 2020
Instead, the natives of Mobile line up after practice, waiting eagerly at a chance to glimpse perhaps the league’s golden boy. A moment between Hurts and Saban is one true sight to see — a story Hollywood would love to script into the next great motion picture.
“There’s a lot of guys playing in the NFL now that are having a lot of success that are similar style players to Jalen, guys that can make plays with their feet,” Saban told reporters Wednesday following the South team’s practice. “I think you know who they are. I think the success of those players has kind of broken the stereotype of, you got to be a dropback passer and this is the only way you can win in the NFL.”
Captivating the culture of media mongols inside the Renaissance Riverview ballroom, Hurts has more than earned the right to test his luck at quarterback. Leaving with his agent, he is continually stopped by scouts, congratulating him on a career of success. Perhaps they’re not just talking about him in the line of football.
Jalen Hurts had solid day today. He connected with Collin Johnson, Van Johnson and other WRs. Here’s just over a minute of his work today at the Senior Bowl. @AgentNicoleLynn pic.twitter.com/S3kLlonoXi
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) January 22, 2020
Burrow likely will return to Ohio when the Bengals are on the clock at pick #1. As for Hurts, Mobile could set the tone on where he heads next. Each snap could make or break his stock, setting him on the path toward success or failure in the imminent future.
As for where he lands? He doesn’t care for the time being. Then again, who wouldn’t want a winner on the roster? Who wouldn’t want the man who won more than a football game during his collegiate career? The player who wouldn’t have his life and journey any other way?
“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 how it’s supposed to. I think I’m stronger, wiser, better man, better player, leader, better everything.”
The team that doesn’t want Jalen probably Hurts, don’t it?
Cole Thompson is the Lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson.