published Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Jones eager to help

LSU transfer moves into Tide secondary

By Michael Casagrande

sports@timesfreepress.com

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- As jewelry collections go, Phelon Jones' is almost one of its kind.

When Alabama's 2009 national title rings come in, he'll have two -- one with the Crimson Tide and the other from his former school.

A transfer from LSU, Jones will have a set similar to Nick Saban's, although they earned the symbol of ultimate success in different seasons in Baton Rouge.

Now Jones is eager to earn his first ring as a game-day contributor. His 2007 Tigers championship came when Jones took a redshirt as a true freshman, and the Mobile native was forced to sit out last season because of NCAA transfer rules.

Eligible and eager for a return to meaningful action, Jones is one of the few Tide defensive backs who's seen SEC competition up close.

"Everyone's competing," he said. "So hopefully I'm up there."

With so many fresh faces competing for time in the secondary, Saban is rotating everyone to develop depth at all positions. For the most part, though, Jones is playing cornerback in the base defense and a nickel back.

Leaving LSU was difficult, said Jones, who harbors no ill will toward his old school. The hiring of defensive coordinator John Chavis after the 2008 season brought a new scheme that didn't involve Jones as much as it had under the old game plan. After falling to third on the depth chart last spring, he made the decision to head back to his home state.

Before leaving Baton Rouge, he earned valued collegiate experience. He started two nonconference games as a redshirt freshman playing dime back, and he recorded a career-high six tackles in wins over North Texas and Troy.

But when coaches changed, he felt he had to make the move, and LSU coaches made the unusual decision to release him to a divisional rival. Jones said he thought Les Miles and his staff respected him enough to OK the transfer.

So it was back to the bench for the once highly touted recruit out of McGill-Toolen High School. He spent 2009 working with the scout team while sitting in on all the defensive back meetings and video sessions.

Patiently waiting while his teammates ran unscathed through the national championship season, Jones' plan developed just as he hoped. Before making the transfer final, he looked at the depth chart for the defensive backfield and realized jobs would come open this season.

When Kareem Jackson made the decision to turn pro in January, three of the four starting jobs were officially up for grabs without many experienced players returning.

Working under Saban, a hands-on coach with the secondary, is making a big difference in Jones' game.

"It's kind of hard, actually," Jones said. "There is pressure, you know. You don't want to mess up. At the same time, if you do mess up, he's going to help you and make you better. As long as I'm out there, I know I'm going to get better every day."

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