October 1, 2010

Column: Jones' influence more felt than seen

TUSCALOOSA _ There's an old saying regarding the Wonderlic test, which the National Football League gives to prospects at combine as part of their pre-draft assessments.

The closer the players are to the ball, the higher the scores.

"I think I'd score pretty well on the Wonderlic," University of Alabama senior quarterback Greg McElroy said. "I've taken it before, it's a tough test, and I think Barrett (Jones) will do great. I think William (Vlachos) will do great and Chance (Warmack) will do well also.

"I don't know if your proximity to that factors in, but I think a lot of the time the quarterbacks are making a lot of the calls and the centers are making the calls for the offensive line, the knowledge that you have to have and the preparation for each and every game sort of leads to, I wouldn't say intelligence, you have to grasp more information."

McElroy should know because in addition to growing up in an NFL family, as his father works for the Dallas Cowboys, he's applying to be a Rhodes Scholar and Wednesday became a semifinalist for the academic Heisman, the William V. Campbell Trophy - formerly known as the Draddy award.

Next year it'll probably be Jones' turn.

"I think Barrett Jones is one of the finest people that I've ever had the opportunity to be around in terms of his willingness to help others, his involvement in the community, going to another country (Haiti) to help with difficult circumstances - very giving," Coach Nick Saban said. "I use the term, do you want to be blessed, or do you want to be a blessing? I think this guy is a blessing in a lot of ways.

"He's an outstanding football player and has done a really good job for us all last year and this year."

Like McElroy, one gets the feeling that Jones will probably be successful in whatever he chooses, although the two will likely take very different paths. Somehow, politics don't seem to be in the right guard's future.

"Barrett's always been someone I look up to off the field," senior tight end Preston Dial said. "The things he does during his off-time, never selfish."

It's something to think about regarding Alabama's showdown with Florida on Saturday and not just because of what fans will see in front of them. Chris Rainey, the Gators' best receiver and a dynamic playmaker, recently became the 30th player to be arrested or facing charges during Urban Meyer's tenure and will miss out on the UF's biggest game of the regular season.

He's exactly the kind of player who could be the difference in a No. 1 vs. No. 7 game like this, and if you think that character doesn't matter just remember the name Tim Tebow.

Meanwhile, Alabama's two smartest players are both approximately two feet away from the ball on every snap. That minimizes the chances of, well, something dumb happening, makes it extremely difficult for defenses to fool the Crimson Tide in the interior and benefits the team in numerous other ways.

Whereas last year the line was clearly under the direction of All-American Mike Johnson, this year's leadership is more spread out with the different players taking ownership of themselves and in the words of one player "feed off each other." But that too reflects the imprint made by Jones and how he goes about things.

"Barrett always goes out of his way to make sure that D.J. (Fluker), Chance and everyone are where they need to be," Dial continued. "It's helped D.J. and Chance out a lot. It helped them mature a lot faster had Barrett not been here."

That he's so even-keeled and likable only makes him that much more unique, and one of his teammates confessed to calling the 6-foot-5, 300-pound giant "teddy bear" off the field.

On the field he's been just as terrific, with no penalties or sacks allowed this season, and against Arkansas he made the key block to spring Mark Ingram on his 54-yard touchdown.

"A lot of times there's really not one hole, the hole depends on where the defense is, if that makes sense," Jones diplomatically said. "I think he's done a great job in learning how to read that. I wouldn't call it free-lancing, he has certain reads that he takes. It's not as easy as 'the hole is going to be here, run here.' It's definitely more of a complicated thing.

"He has incredible vision. So does Trent."

Maybe we shouldn't rule out politics just yet for Jones. After all, the only "B" McElroy ever received was from a leadership class.


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