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Durability of Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa to be monitored next season

© Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

One draft is done; however, people tend to focus much on the future. 

Todd McShay, an NFL Draft expert for ESPN, is one of few analysts that has already started putting together a Way-Too-Early mock draft for 2020.

While many media outlets have the University of Alabama placing seven guys in the first round, it all starts with returning junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa – of whom McShay has slotted as his No. 1 overall selection. 

In his first season as a starter, Tagovailoa took Crimson Tide fans and consumers of college football by storm with his abilities as a natural distributor of the ball.

The coaching he received prior to his arrival to Alabama, especially working with Trent Dilfer at the Elite 11, helped him spearhead the nation’s top-ranked pass efficiency offense (197.34 rating), No. 3 scoring offense (45.6 ppg) and No. 6 total offense (522 ypg) — en route to winning a Southeastern Conference Championship and earning honors as an All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist.

Despite his output of 43 scoring passes to no interceptions in the first eight weeks of the 2018 season, the native Hawaiian struggled late in the year against high quality defenses.  

Aside from Auburn (five touchdown passes), Tagovailoa had six touchdowns to six picks – including four turnovers combined versus Georgia and Clemson. Multiple injuries led to the former five-star playing unlike himself, as he hurt his knee in the Tide’s matchup with Arkansas and his ankle versus the Bulldogs.

When he is not able to successfully plant his feet, Tagovailoa misfires on passes and then tries to make things up by reaching for big plays – which in turn makes the situation worse.

He is not the same caliber of player during injuries and on Thursday’s airing of ESPN’s First Take, McShay told Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman that durability is a “concern” for Tagovailoa in terms of the future. 

“That’s the one thing we are going to talk about,” McShay said on Tagovailoa’s durability. 

“We want to see this next season can he hold up physically, because he wasn’t the same guy down the stretch. Against Georgia, against Clemson, I think four of his six interceptions came in those two games. How does he play against the elite defenses and does he hold up physically for the whole season are going to be the two big questions?” 

In reflecting back on the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in January, McShay said the reason for Tagovailoa’s problems versus Clemson was due to the different looks the Tigers showed on defense. 

“He’d never seen these looks,” McShay said of Tagovailoa versus Clemson. 

“They made Cover 3 look like Cover 4. They made Cover 2 look like Cover 3 and now it’s going to be interesting to watch because teams have spent the offseason studying what they did. It’s not just the quarterback, it’s the whole offense that struggled… And when you have a front four with four guys getting drafted, three in the first round, you are able to do different things defensively that a lot of team can’t do, because you can get pressure with four and then play a lot of games in the backfield. At the end of the day, they made him confused and it was the first time mentally that I’ve seen Tua struggle in terms of what he was seeing versus what the reality was post snap.” 

Part of the issue has to be geared toward things that come with a first-year starter. 

It was a whirlwind for Tagovailoa in 2018 and he had to find ways to compartmentalize everything.

The fractured hand that he suffered in the spring of last year was a freak incident, and the mishaps he sustained in the regular season were a by-product of injuries happen in football. 

Although, the concern can be felt in looking at how many defensive coaches Nick Saban hired for next fall at Alabama. Could it be that if an injury was happen again to Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide would be in tact on defense to win some games? The answer is uncertain at this point; nevertheless, one-half of the “2nd and 26” miracle does not play in the spirit of fear. 

Tagovailoa is a fierce competitor who wants to excel in all things. He’ll have to protect himself more as a leader, but a full year of being “the guy” should prepare him to hold up well.  

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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.

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