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Competition continues at Alabama to replace Heisman winning quarterback

Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe (4) drops back to throw during the first half of Alabama's A-Day NCAA college football scrimmage, Saturday, April 22, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Vasha Hunt/AP
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Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe (4) drops back to throw during the first half of Alabama's A-Day NCAA college football scrimmage, Saturday, April 22, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson are both working to replace Bryce Young at quarterback for the Crimson Tide. They wrapped up spring practice with a battle that figures to carry over into preseason camp. They're vying to replace the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, who appears poised to become the first Alabama passer picked No. 1 in the NFL draft after skipping his senior season. The Tide failed to make the College Football Playoffs even with him, potentially ratcheting up the pressure on whoever emerges as Young's successor.

Young is the latest Tide quarterback to leave early for the NFL, where Mac Jones, Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa are already starters. The current competition figures to carry over into preseason camp after the Tide wrapped up spring practice Saturday with its spring game before an announced crowd of 58,710.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said a major focus has been on the quarterbacks being able to process what the defense is doing "and not start drifting around in the pocket before you give up on what your read might be."

"As a quarterback, it's not only just the plays that you can make — and I like both guys' athleticism to be able to extend plays and get out of trouble and make plays with their feet," Saban said. "At the same time, I think we've got to work on going through progressions and develop confidence in the passing game so that we can distribute the ball to other people who can make plays more effectively and more efficiently."

Milroe and Simpson are relatively unknown commodities at the college level who were highly rated recruits. Simpson was rated the No. 25 overall prospect in 2022, according to the 247Sports composite rankings of the major recruiting sites. Milroe was the fourth-rated dual-threat QB in 2021 — just like Hurts was five years earlier. Now, Hurts is the NFL's highest-paid player with the Philadelphia Eagles.

On Saturday, Milroe had a 35-yard touchdown run and a 36-yard touchdown pass, going 19-of-37 passing with two touchdowns while throwing a pair of interceptions.

Simpson also had a 45-yard scamper, though quarterbacks were wearing black, non-contact jerseys. The redshirt freshman was 12 of 26 for 155 yards with an interception.

Saban didn't exactly rule out exploring options in the transfer portal when asked about the benefits of having quarterback candidates who have been in the system. The goal at every position, after all, is playing "winning football."

"I think that's a better answer to the question: Who can do that the best?" Saban said. "Those are evaluations that we have to make as coaches at every position. We've tried to build this program here with the guys that we recruit and the people in the program but we have had a few guys that have come in and made real impacts on the team.

"And if we see an opportunity to do that, we're always looking for an opportunity to make our team better."

Milroe got the most on-the-job training last season with Young's shoulder injury. He finished the game against Arkansas and had a 77-yard rushing touchdown, then passed for three touchdowns in his lone start against Texas A&M.

Simpson got mop-up duty in four games and only attempted five passes, completing four for 35 yards.

Young wasn't present when the 2022 team captains were honored by placing their hand and cleat prints in the cement at Denny Chimes near the stadium. No reason was given for his absence.

The only Alabama quarterback to be a No. 1 pick was Joe Namath in the 1965 AFL draft. It is big shoes to fill, especially in those mental aspects like understanding the defense and avoiding mistakes.

Offensive lineman JC Latham said Milroe and Simpson have been "just improving every single day."

"I think after a summer of just being with them and jelling and just going over the plays," Latham said, "I think we'll be in great shape."

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