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Alabama photo by Kristen Taylor / Alabama quarterback Mac Jones made four starts last season due to Tua Tagivailoa absences, but Jones is this year's starter based on performance.

He became Alabama's starting quarterback because of an injury.

He retained the position based on performance.

Redshirt junior Mac Jones was the favorite to guide the Crimson Tide this season after capitalizing on the opportunity that was provided last November, when 2018 Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa dislocated his right hip at Mississippi State. Jones did his part to extend Alabama's stellar offensive performances, but there was no guarantee he would fend off the challenge this preseason from five-star freshman Bryce Young.

Which is why being tabbed the starter recently was a special moment for the 6-foot-3, 214-pounder from Jacksonville, Florida.

"I'm really thankful to be named to that position, and I think I've earned the trust of my teammates and coaches," Jones said this week on a Zoom call. "We've just got to keep working as a team."

Jones is the first three-star quarterback prospect to sign with Alabama during the Nick Saban era and ultimately take the reins. He signed with the Tide in 2017 and redshirted that year, when Jalen Hurts was the starter until being replaced by Tagovailoa at halftime of Alabama's 26-23 overtime triumph over Georgia in the national championship game.

Any shaky play by Jones beginning with Saturday night's opener at Missouri (7 on ESPN) could result in a clamoring for Young, but Jones is prepared to combat that.

"Jalen and Tua did it right," Jones said. "Whoever was in the game at the time tried to do the job to the best of his ability, and that's all you can do, really. You can't focus on everything else.

"If I'm in the game, I need to get the ball to the right guys and let them make plays, celebrate when we score and have fun."

Jones built a respectable foundation last season, when he played in 12 games and made four starts. He completed 97 of 141 passes (68.8%) for 1,503 yards with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions, though two of his gaffes were returned for touchdowns by Smoke Monday and Zakoby McClain in Auburn's 48-45 Iron Bowl upset.

McClain's touchdown covered 100 yards, but Jones bounced back by going 16-of-25 (64.0%) for 327 yards and three scores in Alabama's 35-16 defeat of Michigan in the Citrus Bowl that capped an 11-2 season.

"He's done a good job of taking a leadership role, and I think he's playing with a lot of confidence," Saban said. "I think our players have confidence in him, and we're pleased with his development. The more knowledge and experience you get from playing — the mistakes that you make and the good plays that you make — all sort of help you develop confidence and increase your chances of playing with consistency.

"That is showing in Mac's play."

Saban added that Jones is coming off an impressive scrimmage and is better at managing his emotions in practice when something doesn't go right, a problem Saban pinpointed not long after Jones arrived in Tuscaloosa. Jones admits he has matured a lot and "has learned from a lot of great people," and the support from his teammates is very evident.

"He understands the importance of being the starting quarterback and doing the things you need to do," senior receiver DeVonta Smith said. "He's come a very long way, and I'm excited for him. I believe in Mac the same way I believed in Tua."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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