Barrett Jones' shift central for Tide's offense

Barrett Jones' shift central for Tide's offense

July 22nd, 2012 by David Paschall in Sports College08football

Barrett Jones played left tackle last season for Alabama's national championship team and is now at center, and he has a chance to be All-SEC for three straight years at three different positions. University of Alabama Photo

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ALABAMA

Camp start: Aug. 3

Opener: Michigan in Arlington, Texas (Sept. 1 on ABC at 8 p.m.)

Fun fact: For the first time in more than 40 years, Alabama does not hold the series edge against every school in the SEC. The Crimson Tide are 1-2 against newcomer Missouri but can square that series with a road win on Oct. 13.

There are pros and cons concerning center Barrett Jones as he enters his senior season at Alabama.

Jones was an All-America left tackle for college football's 2011 national champions and was an All-Southeastern Conference right guard as a sophomore. He will receive a master's degree in accounting in December after posting a 4.0 undergraduate GPA, and the 6-foot-5, 302-pounder has spent his past two spring breaks helping underprivileged children in Haiti and Nicaragua.

And the cons?

"My mom would tell you I have a lot of bad habits," a smiling Jones said this past week at SEC media days in Hoover, Ala. "I'm an oldest child, so I'm very bossy. My siblings don't always like me but they love me, and I bite my fingernails."

At a storied program with a history of achievement, Jones ranks right up with the most decorated ever to suit up for the Crimson Tide. Should the reigning Outland Trophy winner be All-SEC for a third time this year, he would be the first in league history to do so at three different positions.

Jones will be flanked by guards Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen and tackles D.J. Fluker and Cyrus Kouandjio in what is being hailed as the nation's top offensive front. Jones, Warmack and Fluker were SEC preseason first-team selections.

"Certainly we take a lot of pride in our offensive line play, and we do feel like whoever we plug in there, we're going to have success," Jones said. "We've got four starters coming back, and we feel really, really good about what we're doing up front and confident in our communication, which is so key. Sometimes the best offensive lines aren't the ones that are the most talented but the ones who communicate the best.

"This year, obviously we have a ton of talent, and when you combine that with communication, hopefully we'll have the best offensive line that I've ever been a part of."

In the days leading up to Alabama's 21-0 surprise overpowering of LSU in January's BCS championship game, Jones heard hints that a move to center might be forthcoming. Kouandjio had proven his worth as the backup left tackle eight games into his freshman season before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and the notable vacancy was going to be at center, where three-year starter WIlliam Vlachos was out of eligibility.

Recognizing the athleticism and intelligence Jones has shown since arriving in 2008 from Evangelical Christian in the Memphis suburb of Cordova, coach Nick Saban made the sensible move. The only other lineman with such production and versatility Saban has witnessed was NFL Hall of Fame member Bruce Matthews during Saban's 1986-89 stint as a Houston Oilers assistant.

"He could play center, guard and tackle," Saban said. "He was a long-snapper. He's the only guy that I can remember, so that's pretty high class there to be compared to someone like him.

"Barrett Jones has been an outstanding leader on our team on and off the field, and his academic record is absolutely as good as anybody we've ever had around."

As the left tackle last season, Jones helped the Crimson Tide average a healthy 214.5 rushing yards a game and allow a very respectable 1.31 sacks per contest. He played 587 snaps during the regular season and was graded with just nine missed assignments.

Though most offensive and defensive linemen prefer playing on the outside, Jones believes he will enjoy the most interior of positions.

"What little glory the offensive line has, the left tackle hogs about 90 percent of it," Jones said, "but it's just fun playing on the offensive line because you're part of a group of guys. With all the other positions in football, you need the other guys, but not like you do on the offensive line.

"You can be an outstanding player, but if the guy next to you doesn't know what he's doing, you're going to look terrible, and that's what's so great about it. I need Chance and Anthony Steen so bad in order to look like a good player."

Jones has played golf in recent weeks to savor the last little bit of down time he has before his fifth and final preseason camp. As an unquestioned leader of the team, he is filtering down messages from Saban about not being complacent, which stemmed the 2010 Tide after they had captured the '09 BCS title.

And with Jones having so few faults, it's hard to imagine anyone not listening.

"We saw on the awards special last year that he played the violin, so he's gotten a little heat for that," senior tight end Michael Williams said. "He's all-around, he's great, and he's one of the best teammates I've ever had."