TUSCALOOSA — With three-time academic All-American Barrett Jones in graduate school and carrying a 4.0 grade point average, Alabama coaches figured he was smart enough to figure out how to play center this season.
He has done so, and Alabama coach Nick Saban said there hasn’t been any talk at all of moving him back to either guard or tackle — two spots he played at Alabama before switching to center in the spring.
But as the Crimson Tide winds down preparations for Saturday’s game at Missouri and Jones readies for a sixth starting assignment hiking the ball, he said some of the most basic things about the position have proven to be the most significant adjustments.
“There are several,” he said. “Snapping the ball is a big adjustment. An adjustment people don’t talk about that much is being on the ball. The other two positions you’re about two yards off the ball, but at center you’re right there with a guy, especially against our defense that plays a lot of 3-4 that are right there in your face. That’s definitely one of them.”
Another big adjustment is making the snap when the quarterback is several yards behind him. As the center, he makes the position call for his teammates on the line. But he has to put his head down to look back through his legs at the quarterback.
That creates a problem for Jones, who seems to relish making those position calls. Jones said former starting center William Vlachos, who graduated after last season, used to poke a little fun at him for it. He used to joke that Jones wanted to make the calls from guard or tackle, even when it wasn’t his responsibility.
“The nightmare in all that is when I make my calls and then I put my head down and they move and then I put it back up and it’s different,” Jones said. “That’s really when it gets very difficult when you’re not able to see.
“I’m kind of a control freak so I don’t like that when I put my head up and it’s different. I have to rely on my guards to tell me what’s going on and what’s changed. That’s something we’ve been working on not just this week but for a long time.”
But Jones has done well enough that if he remains healthy, he appears headed toward a rare triple crown of offensive line play.
He was a third-team Associated Press All-American as a right guard his sophomore year but was uprooted and placed at left tackle, where he made first-team All-American and won the Outland Trophy as a junior. If he earns All-America honors again this year, that would mark three times at three different positions.
At least one defensive lineman is rooting for Jones to land that postseason honor.
“Barrett is a great athlete,” Alabama defensive end Damion Square said. “Barrett can play all across the front. He’s a very smart athlete. He plays the game in his mind. It’s amazing how he plays his game in his mind.
“He’s not a real real physical guy, but he’s a guy that’s so hard to beat because he’s always in the right spot at the right time. He changes up his set from center to tackle. That’s a very hard thing to do - to move from offensive tackle to center in the spring and come and play in the SEC every week and do that. All the accolades Barrett has, he deserves them and more.”
Jones remains a favorite of Saban, and the coach said it doesn’t always have to do with his football ability.
“I’ve said this many times, and maybe I can’t say it as well each time: Barrett Jones is probably as fine a person, in terms of his leadership, his example that he sets, the willingness that he has to serve other people with his time, in terms of all the things he’s done to help other people,” Saban said. “He’s one of the best students I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach, relative to his grade point average and how successfully he is academically.”
When you include his football ability, Saban added, “Just not very many people like him. He’s special.”