TUSCALOOSA — Alabama All-America center Barrett Jones still hasn’t returned to practice as his injured left foot continues to heal, and that has given his friend and teammate, quarterback AJ McCarron, a perfect chance to poke at him.
“I make him mad every day,” McCarron said. “I tell Barrett practice is easier because I don’t have to listen to him talk.”
McCarron had a big grin as he said that, but as the BCS National Championship Game looms 10 days away, Jones missing practice is a little less funny to anyone wearing crimson than it was a week ago when he said matter-of-factly, “Sprained foot. Going to be fine. Can’t wait to play.”
When discussing Jones’ foot injury and backup linebacker Denzel Devall’s knee injury Thursday night after practice, Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban hinted slightly at what seemed unthinkable before Christmas break — it’s possible Alabama could line up against Notre Dame for the national title Jan. 7 without Jones.
“Barrett and Denzel both spent a little time on a treadmill,” Saban said. “Depending on how that goes this week, then they’ll probably be able to practice maybe next week.
“That’s kind of the plan, but it’s day to day because they both need to continue to make progress to be able to come back and play. We’re hopeful that they get at least five practices in before the game and are able to do that and sustain that.”
Including today, Alabama has only seven practices and a walk-through left before the game.
Devall hurt his knee nine days ago, and while he is an important backup, he doesn’t carry the same weight on the squad as Jones, who is a team captain and the Rimington Trophy winner as the nation’s best center.
Jones injured his foot Dec. 1 in the SEC Championship Game win over Georgia. It happened in the first quarter, but Jones finished the game. Afterward, Saban said he hoped Jones might practice when the Tide returned to work two weeks after that.
But when the Tide returned to the practice field last week, Jones didn’t participate and instead had a blue cast on his left foot. On Thursday, Jones wasn’t on the field. He was dressed out in his pads, but wore a black jersey, which signifies he is not available for contact of any kind. He wore a bulky black walking boot on his injured foot.
During the time in which Saban allowed reporters to view practice, Jones remained off to the side, doing some light exercises with the best person Alabama has available to devote to the task — strength coach Scott Cochran.
Alabama didn’t make Jones available to reporters Thursday night, but McCarron was willing to talk about his center.
“I definitely miss him (on the field) because he’s one of my good friends,” he said. “I like having him out there. We kind of go back and forth with each other.”
If Jones really can’t play — and there isn’t any clear indication he won’t — the job will fall to redshirt freshman Ryan Kelly, who will be surrounded by experienced guards Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen and tackles D.J. Fluker and Cyrus Kouandjio. Those four players have started every game this season.
“He’s an exceptional young player who catches on very fast with the scheme of things,” Warmack said. “I don’t really see him as a young player. I see him as a veteran. He’s keen on carrying me and taking control in terms of making the right calls; knowing the scheme, what it takes to be a starter at center on the offensive line.”
Kelly, who Jones calls his protege, has played in nine games this year. He didn’t get off the bench in games against Ole Miss, Texas A&M, LSU and Georgia. The SEC coaches voted him to the league’s All-Freshman squad.
“Kelly has done an excellent job,” McCarron said. “I have all the confidence in the world in Kelly. I know I can count on him. If he gets his time, I know he’ll be ready to play and ready to show what he can do.”