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Alabama sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts has encountered a very different preseason camp compared to a year ago, when he was competing for the starting job with three older teammates.

Every time Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts steps out on the practice fields this month in Tuscaloosa, he does so as the reigning Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year.

This time last year, Hurts was working out not knowing when or if he would get on the field once the season kicked off.

"It's a different situation," Hurts said in a news conference after Thursday's inaugural practice. "Last year, coming in, I was trying to find my way and put myself in the mix or whatever you want to call it. Now it's my team, and I have to lead."

The 6-foot-2, 218-pounder from Houston was an early enrollee last year and fourth on the depth chart behind Blake Barnett, Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell, who are now at Arizona State, Utah and Nevada. Barnett got the starting nod in last season's opener against Southern California, but the Crimson Tide trailed 3-0 when Hurts entered the game and ignited a 38-point surge that resulted in a 52-6 thrashing.

Barnett is vying with Arizona State returning starter Manny Wilkins for the right to guide Todd Graham's Sun Devils, and weighing in on that decision will be first-year offensive coordinator Billy Napier from Murray County, Ga., who was Alabama's receivers coach last season. Cornwell is working as Nevada's first-team quarterback, while Bateman has a sizable climb in getting quality playing time with the Utes.

Those battles are time zones away from what now exists at Alabama, where Hurts is the elder statesman of a position that also includes early enrollees Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones.

"I was the starter last year, so I felt like an old guy," Hurts said, smiling.

Hurts grabbed the offensive reins last September and racked up a school-record 36 touchdowns, with 23 of those coming through the air. He completed 240 of 382 passes for 2,780 yards with the 23 TDs and nine interceptions, and he also rushed 191 times for 954 yards (5.0 per carry) and 13 scores.

The Crimson Tide encountered offensive inconsistencies during the four-team playoff that culminated with a loss to Clemson, so 11th-year Alabama coach Nick Saban turned to New England Patriots tight ends coach Brian Daboll as his new coordinator. The chief goal for Daboll the past several months has been to enhance the dual-threat Hurts from an aerial standpoint.

"Based on Jalen's confidence and the poise that he has out there in practice, I think there has been a lot of improvement in his knowledge and understanding," Saban said after the opening practice. "His leadership and presence have a positive effect on the offense. I think he's really improved as a passer."

Hurts was asked about Daboll and said, "We're all respectful of him and willing to work. We like him a lot."

Despite having a huge role in Alabama's 14 consecutive wins to open last season, Hurts and his Crimson Tide teammates have spent months dealing with the loss to Clemson. He said the loss will "always be there" and that it will always be a motivating factor.

A Sept. 2 triumph over Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game certainly would help the Tide move on, but Hurts knows a lot needs to be accomplished before he suits up against the Seminoles.

"They're there, but right now we're worried about us," he said. "We're worried about improving every day, regardless of any rankings or where we're ranked or where they're ranked. We've got to go earn all that and handle our business every day.

"We have to get to the team we want to be."

The Tide held their second preseason practice Friday afternoon, working out for two hours in helmets and shorts.

Today's practice open

Alabama will hold an open practice this afternoon from 3:30 to 5:30 EDT inside Bryant-Denny Stadium as part of its annual fan day activities. Players and coaches will be available for autographs on the field after practice, beginning at 5:45, with Saban's availability at 45 minutes.

The practice is free to the public.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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