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Alabama football: Daboll has given Hurts plenty of input in Tide’s offense

December 29, 2017 GMT

NEW ORLEANS — When he finished study hall mandated for most Alabama freshman athletes, Jalen Hurts would retreat to the film room for more preparation or self-scouting. The Crimson Tide’s offensive staff met a few doors down. Hurts walked down the hall, unsure if he or his input was welcomed inside.

“Kind of peek my head in from the outside,” Hurts remembered Thursday in New Orleans.

One year later, there is no hesitation. Brian Daboll has made that apparent. Hurts enters offensive meetings whenever he sees fit. If Hurts can’t make it, Daboll calls him on FaceTime or actively seeks his opinion.

The third offensive coordinator in Hurts’ two-year college career has embraced the quarterback’s voice, one apparently growing after a full season of experience.

“I think that’s a difference for sure,” Hurts said. “Coach Daboll kind of picking my head on certain things and seeing what I’m comfortable with. Do I want to put this in today or not? That’s kind of been a difference this year.”

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Daboll’s foremost charge when he took this job almost one year ago was to cultivate balance, beginning with Hurts as a passer. Doing so required a relationship, one closer than most players and coaches share.

Daboll approaches it with a somewhat unconventional perspective. He’s a father of six. His oldest son will soon be a freshman in college. Another is a rising high school senior, both close enough to Hurts’ age that Daboll feels comfortable relating one’s plight to the other — hardly ever about football.

It’s a departure for Daboll, who for the last 16 years worked in the National Football League, where the game determined pensions and mortgages with no middle ground.

“You’re trying to help those guys any way you can be better men, too,” Daboll said. “It’s not just all football. You’re there for them if they’re having a personal issue. You’re there for them in their studies. You’re trying to help them develop to be as good of a man as they can be.”

Tide coach Nick Saban acknowledged this spring the staff “protected” Hurts as a freshman, unwilling to call plays with which he was uncomfortable, a tactic Saban and former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin agreed upon.

If any such restrictions still exist, few are willing to acknowledge them. Daboll was coy in assessing any part of Alabama’s offensive performance, much less one player’s contributions.

The team it faces Monday in the College Football Playoff semifinal Sugar Bowl had far fewer reservations. Clemson defenders notice the changes, from both Daboll and Hurts.

“This year, they just gave (Hurts) the keys,” Tigers sophomore defensive end Clelin Ferrell said. “So I mean it’s really no limit to what they put in his hands. They let him go out there and kind of do his thing and thrive throughout the offense. I feel like it’s kind of expanded throughout the playbook I would say.”

Added defensive coordinator Brent Venables: “They’re doing a very good job of establishing the line of scrimmage, utilize the screen game, the boot game, play action, and, again, get some one-on-one opportunities outside and over the top.

“Some of the play designs are the same, and some of it’s a little bit different. And, obviously, they got back here.”