returned four of five starters on the offensive line from last season's national championship team. One of those four, Barrett Jones
, won the Outland Award as the nation's best lineman. Jones also won the Jacobs Award, selected by Southeastern Conference coaches as the league's best blocker. And he did those things at the difficult left tackle position.
This year he has moved to the more difficult center position, replacing William Vlachos
, the lone starting offensive line graduate from 2011.
Alabama has some plays with the quarterback under center, taking a direct exchange of the ball, hands to hands. Other plays, though, have the quarterback in spread formation, commonly known as shotgun. This requires a blind snap back about five yards.
And the center has to keep his head up to see what's going on in front of him. That's partly to keep from getting buried by an opposing nose tackle and partly because the center has to call blocking assignments for the offensive line. And that can lead to difficulty.
Jones, a 6-5, 302-pound senior who started one year at right guard and two years at left tackle before moving to center for this season, is working against what is expected to be another good Alabama defense. The team was going through its fourth and final day of two practices in one day on Wednesday.
Jones said that his snaps "are coming along pretty good. I'm not going to say perfect, because I'm not.
"What happens to an amateur center like me is when something happens when the ball is being snapped."
For instance, he explained, Alabama's defense uses a lot of cross blitz. If Jones has already called the blocking assignment and the quarterback is in his cadence, and THEN a linebacker heads to the gap as the snap is about to be made...
"That is when I'll have a low one or something," Jones said. "That's because it takes my mind off the snap for a split second; or I'm trying to change the call late.
"I just have to keep working on those kinds of things.
"Pretty much though, I've had mostly good snaps."
Jones admitted that quarterback A.J. McCarron
might have a different opinion.
"AJ wants them right here (Jones patted chest high), not down here (reaching to his knees), or at his waist, or a little right or left (reaching out from his shoulder). ‘Barrett! Come on!' Heaven forbid he has to bend down a little bit."
Jones will be making snaps in a new environment in just over two weeks when Alabama opens the season Sept. 1 against Michigan
at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Everyone on Alabama's team who is asked to talk about what makes Barrett Jones so effective says that it is his technique. And Jones agrees. First of all, he understands the play, and then it's a matter of knowing – in the oft-repeated words of Bama Coach Nick Saban
– "what to do, how to do it, and why we do it that way."
Jones said, "My best asset is probably just understanding of the play. I always know exactly what I have to do and how to do it, technique and just understanding what it is I'm trying to accomplish on that block.
"There're just a lot of nuances of football that when you've been playing it for a long time. Not only do I want to know what I'm doing, I want to know what he [the opponent across the line] is doing. And after playing for a long time, it's funny how the game starts to slow down for you after a while. You've been playing for a long time and you see things that you didn't see when you were younger, and it just allows you to play faster, to play more confidently. And when you play more confidently, and you play faster, that can help you be a more effective blocker.
"I love figuring out different looks. That's what I really enjoy about football in general. I love when they draw up something crazy, which happens about every day because Coach Saban gives us a lot of different looks and figuring out what it is we need to do to make adjustments, figuring out the intellectual part of how to break down defenses and make adjustments."
Another thing Jones likes is the team camaraderie built in fall camp.
"You don't find a lot of people that really love camp," he said, "but it's very necessary because it's kind of your first test of adversity when you're going through tough times and you have to kind of bond together as a team. It's sort of an ‘us against the world' mentality in camp, and we have to get close to each other."
Jones doesn't buy the idea that Alabama has a conservative offense, but he understands the perception.
He pointed out that Alabama scored 34.8 points per game last year. "That's not that conservative," he said.
Jones does agree that Alabama has a balanced offense. That is born out statistically as the Tide averaged 214.5 yards per game rushing and 215.2 yards per game passing.
"I think we feel like we have the most effectiveness by being balanced," Jones said. And because the Tide continues to set offensive records, "I think definitely we're explosive.
" I know we get less plays probably than an average team just because we do run the ball more and control the clock more, and kind of have a little bit different style. But I love the style we play. From an offensive line perspective, we love running the ball. Personally, I would not enjoy playing in a spread or whatever where we threw the ball more. I think that's a good point though. Maybe balance is conservative.
"Kind of like 50 is the new 40."
It's not a snap. That is, if you are, in the words of Barrett Jones, "an amateur center like me," the snap can be difficult. The center has a lot on his mind. But so far, so good, according to the man doing the job in Alabama's fall football camp.