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Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama Crimson Tide ‘ahead of schedule’ in ankle recovery, Nick Saban says

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is “ahead of schedule” as he recovers from surgery he had to repair a high-ankle sprain suffered during the SEC championship game earlier this month, coach Nick Saban said Monday.

“He’s doing well,” Saban said. “I think he’s probably ahead of schedule. He’s been able to take a lot of reps. He’s been able to throw the ball from the pocket. He can run.”

Tagovailoa has been present for all four of Alabama’s bowl practices this month. He hasn’t participated in some specific footwork drills during the media viewing periods, but he has been able to move around without much obvious limitation.

“I don’t think he’s 100 percent in terms of change of direction yet,” Saban said. “But he’s already going 100 percent on the gravity treadmill. So he’s been able to practice and he’s made really, really good progress. So we’re encouraged by that.”

The sophomore was seen in a walking boot and utilized a medical scooter during the Heisman Trophy ceremonies in New York earlier this month. Jeff Allen, Alabama’s lead trainer, traveled with Tagovailoa to aid in his recovery.

Tagovailoa, who has thrown for 37 touchdowns and four interceptions, finished second in the Heisman race to Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. The two will go head-to-head when the Sooners and the Tide face off in the CFP semifinal game at the Capital One Orange Bowl on Dec. 29 in Miami.

Tagovailoa had one of his worst performances of the season during the SEC title game against Georgia on Dec. 1, throwing just one touchdown and two interceptions before the injury forced him to leave.

Backup quarterback Jalen Hurts, who started the previous two seasons at Alabama, entered the game and led the come-from-behind victory, throwing the game-tying touchdown and running in the go-ahead score.

Alabama offensive guard Deonte Brown, who has been dealing with a turf toe injury and was sidelined for portions of the SEC title game, is nearing 100 percent health as well, Saban said.

“He’s doing well,” Saban said. “He’s probably not 100 percent yet, but he’s making good progress and we’re encouraged by it.”

Saban also addressed a recent visit by former Maryland coach DJ Durkin.

Durkin was fired in October after initially being retained following two separate investigations into the death of former player Jordan McNair during offseason workouts last spring.

Saban referenced the “numerous coaches” who have observed bowl preparation in the past, including Chip Kelly and Lane Kiffin. Last month, former Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez also visited the program.

“We’ve had numerous coaches come here and observe bowl preparation in the past, and they don’t really have any impact on the program, they don’t really have any impact on the players,” Saban said. “So I certainly don’t want anything to be viewed as a negative from our program or our standpoint. But I made a statement about it: He’s not been hired here, he’s not a part of the program here, he’s strictly here to observe.

“When we have these people do that, if they have any good ideas for us, we certainly welcome them. I think there’s a lot of coaches out there, when they don’t have jobs, they like to be able to be involved in some kind of way.”

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