Alabama held their Pro Day last Tuesday, and after holding press conferences for a handful of their stars last week, they gave opportunities to speak with head coach Nick Saban and three of their top performers.
The big headline coming out of the conferences for Bears fans was the confirmation that Mac Jones has had a formal meeting with their staff. The consensus All-American told Windy City Gridiron about his meeting with Chicago’s brass and appeared comfortable when talking about how the encounter went.
Jones put together a stellar 2020 season, and his accuracy and ability to make pre-snap adjustments has some draft analysts dubbing him the most “pro-ready” quarterback un the 2021 NFL Draft. When asked about that designation, he attributed his mental acumen to a strong work ethic and hopes to continue his successes at the NFL level.
“I think I’ve always tried to be a pro in whatever I do,” Jones elaborated. “I think that the team that picks me is going to realize that they don’t have to worry about me being the first guy in or the last guy out. I’m going to sit and watch as much film as I can and do all the right things. Obviously, the tape speaks for itself. You can watch what I did and nobody knows my reads, so people out there who say I’m just throwing it to the first guy, that’s not necessarily true.
“I do a really good job of dissecting defenses, and I’m going to continue doing that in the NFL. It’s going to be a lot more difficult, but hopefully I’ll be able to figure that out. In terms of that, I just got to evaluate where I’m at after this Pro Day and just continue to grow that in the weight room, get a little more strength and speed, and it’ll all work out how it’s supposed to work out.”
Jones was the lone offensive standout to speak to the media on Monday, with many of Alabama’s star offensive prospects appearing in last week’s conference. However, the Crimson Tide did have two highly-touted defenders appear in the form of linebacker Dylan Moses and cornerback Patrick Surtain II.
Moses was widely viewed as a first-round pick in the 2020 draft coming into the 2019 season, but a torn ACL in practice caused him to miss the entire year. He came back with a vengeance this past year, and while he is viewed primarily as a Day 2 selection now after playing through the year with a torn meniscus, teams are still high in demand for the three-year starter.
Playing most of his collegiate career as a weak-side linebacker, Moses slid inside as the Crimson Tide’s MIKE linebacker in 2020. Though he’s comfortable playing just about anywhere, he feels that a return to his roots would maximize his athletic skill set.
“Most teams, when they speak to me, they ask me if I’d be comfortable playing WILL, the weak-side linebacker,” Moses explained. “Because they saw my film...I was able to play freely: I play my best when I’m at WILL. A couple teams asked me if I could play MIKE in their system, and I told them I didn’t mind. That’s something I never really had an issue with. I feel like I could play both positions; I’m interchangeable with it. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to excel in whatever defense I’m in.”
Alabama has had a defensive back drafted in the first two rounds in eight of the last nine drafts, and with Surtain entering the draft this year, that trend will presumably continue. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year is widely considered to be a top cornerback prospect in the 2021 class and is essentially viewed as a first-round lock.
The son of three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Surtain Sr., the younger Surtain complements fluidity and length with a high football IQ and strong route recognition. Much like his teammate Jones, Surtain attributed his mental acuity to his hard work and dedication towards watching tape.”
“It starts in the film room,” said Surtain. “You just get a lot of [pre-snap reads] in the film room. The eye in the sky tells everything, so dissecting those little things in the film room so when you go on the field, you absolutely just notice what’s about to happen beforehand. [Against] a receiver, you just got to look at, depending on their split, their tendencies throughout the offensive scheme. Often, schemes run a variety of route concepts, so just getting a great intake on that and understanding what they like to do beforehand. That will help you a lot.”
Head coach Nick Saban also had the chance to speak to the media, and given how many prospects from his team are expected to be drafted come April, he had plenty of opportunities to talk about his players.
Among the players Saban spoke about on Monday was wide receiver DeVonta Smith, the Heisman winner who spoke to the media last week. Though his success in 2020 was undeniable, some draft analysts have expressed concern about the receiver’s slight, 170-pound frame. While Saban acknowledges that some teams may want Smith to bulk up, he has no worries about his ability to translate to the next level.”
“I think his performance speaks for itself,” Saban commented on Smith. “And I’ll be honest with you: when we were recruiting DeVonta Smith, he weighed 159 pounds. I wished he was bigger. Now he weighs 170 pounds, and I think people at the next level are probably saying, ‘I wish he was bigger’. But saying all that to say this, there are bigger people who don’t perform anywhere near how he performs. There are people that are bigger than him that don’t have the competitive spirit that he has, nor the competitive toughness. Tell me, how many receivers are tougher than he is, that block better, that play more physical than he does? I think maybe there’s a time when you say, ‘this guy really overcomes the fact that he’s not the biggest guy in the world. He really plays this game really, really well’. And I don’t think anybody can argue that fact.”