With Jones on the Field, Alabama is Dangerous
Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones has been described as tall, fast and strong. But the latest adjective to describe him -- eligible -- will be most important this Saturday in Atlanta.
On Wednesday, the NCAA reinstated Jones and running back Mark Ingram on the condition they repay the cost of a Gulf Coast finishing trip paid for by an Alabama man.
Although the No. 5 Crimson Tide branded itself a powerful running team last season, Jones poses the serious offensive threat to No. 7 Virginia Tech. Jones, a sophomore, is one of the most explosive and dangerous playmakers in the nation.
“He has a will and a desire that he’s not going to go down,” said Torrian Gray, the Hokies’ defensive backs coach. “I’ve never seen a guy break so many tackles and just have a determination that he’s going to get so many yards after he catches the ball.”
There are no easy answers for Jones, who lines up in different positions from a variety of formations. Boundary cornerback Stephan Virgil could face Jones man-on-man coverage with Jones on one play, while field cornerback Rashad Carmichael might be responsible for Jones in zone coverage on the next. At 6 feet 4, Jones also poses potential matchup problems with Virgil and Carmichael, who are both 5-11.
The Hokies’ secondary is consistently considered one of the nation’s best, but locking down Jones might be impossible. Even containing him is no small task.
“He’s a special guy,” Gray said, adding, “We’ll have our hands full with him.”
As a freshman last year, Jones did not need much time to show why he was one of the nation’s top recruits coming out of high school. He developed as a target and commanded coverage. With a team-high 58 receptions for 924 yards and four touchdowns, Jones was named the Southeastern Conference’s freshman of the year.
“He’s got an ‘it’ factor about him,” Gray said. “I just have a lot of respect and appreciate the way he plays the game.”
Jones showed up in some of Alabama’s biggest games last season. Against Florida, he drew double-teams and combination coverages but still finished with 124 yards on five catches, including a season-long 64-yard reception. Against Louisiana State, he caught a career-high seven passes for 128 yards. He tied that career high with seven catches for 77 yards against Utah in the Sugar Bowl.
What helps to separate Jones is his uncanny knack for shaking tacklers and picking up yards after the catch.
“He’s a like a thoroughbred out there,” linebacker Cody Grimm said. “He’s just faster and stronger than everyone pretty much. I’ll hang on though. I think I’ll be able to get him down.”
In practice this week, Randall Dunn has played the scout-team role of Jones. It is a tough comparison to make. Dunn is a 6-1 redshirt freshman. The tall, long-armed Jones has received comparisons to former Georgia Tech standout Calvin Johnson, a first-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions in 2007. Despite Dunn’s best efforts to replicate Jones, defensive coordinator Bud Foster said it was “hard to mimic that guy.”
Now that he is cleared to play on Saturday, Jones will give the Hokies an up-close look at how difficult he is to cover.
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