Jones Makes Rounds On Offensive Line

When sportswriters talked with Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones Monday, they wanted to know something about a couple of offensive line candidates for this year, true freshman tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and sophomore guard Anthony Steen. Jones, meanwhile, has been wondering about center William Vlachos.

Barrett Jones, a 6-5, 311-pound junior for the Alabama football team, has been justifiably celebrated as an outstanding student (straight ‘A's and already a college graduate) and an all-star offensive lineman. He was Freshman All-America, earned All-Southeastern Conference honors as a sophomore, and is a pre-season All-America as an offensive guard, the position he has played the past two years.

With the beginning of fall camp, Jones was moved to the important left tackle spot, vacated by James Carpenter, who has moved on to the National Football League.

Last week, center William Vlachos was ill. And there was Barrett Jones filling in at center.

"It was an adventure," Jones said. "I like a challenge, and it was extremely challenging. I guess now I've played all five positions on the line, so it's good to kind of complete that.

"During camp we prepare for those 'what if' situations. It may sound simple to say you snap the ball and then block, but it's not easy. I think it gave me a better feel for the offense, for what William (Vlachos) does. Calling a play in a few seconds is a lot harder than correcting it."

Jones joked that he was sending get-well cards, balloons, and sweets to Vlachos. "I was definitely calling him, checking, ‘Vlachos, when you going to be back, man?' Not really, but..."

Jones said the time at center made him more aware of the offense, and more aware of the difficult assignment Vlachos has in calling the defense so linemen know the blocking scheme. And, he said, "Vlachos liked that I got a chance to do that just because I'm always correcting him and giving him tips on what to call. I got to see it's a little harder. It's easier to correct calls than it is to make calls. You have to do it – make the read and the call -- in just a couple of seconds."

The offensive line is expected to be a strength of this year's team with four starters back – Jones, Vlachos, right tackle D.J. Fluker, and left guard Chance Warmack. "Overall, we're encouraged," Jones said. "The offensive line is gelling well. We're looking for the best unit."

Jones doesn't know when a final decision will be made on where he fits in and how the dust settles.

Jones said, "I think we're not in a bad spot right now. We have a lot of talented guys. As is always the case in camp, we're trying to find the best unit. We've been trying a lot of different combinations and we'll see where we settle with, but we feel great about where we are."

The offensive line is seen as a strength, but the defensive line is considered perhaps the question mark of what is thought to be an exceptional Alabama defense. Jones has gone up against most of the defensive linemen and has no questions.

"I feel great about our defensive line," Jones adi. "I think a lot of people have been saying things about our defensive line being a weakness. I totally disagree with that. I think we have a great defensive line. I think we're going to have a lot of guys play this year on the defensive line just because we have so many guys who can play there. Obviously, Josh Chapman is a great nose guard. Anytime you're down there with him it's extremely difficult. And then we have a lot of different guys at the tackle positions like Damion Square, Jesse Williams, Quinton Dial that have been playing great football. I'm excited. Honestly, I have no idea who will start, but I think all those guys will get significant playing time and do a great job for us.

"We know we're going against a great defense, but we're not making excuses. When you look at the film, it usually comes down to what you do.

"A good defense helps us. We'll get every look that we will get during the season."

One good Alabama defender Jones has gone against is Courtney Upshaw, the jack linebacker who often plays like a defensive lineman. Jones said trying to block Upshaw is "a challenge. The best rushers in any league are guys who can beat you with speed and power. The thing about Courtney is he is the perfect hybrid of speed and power. He's so fast off the edge and he can beat you with a speed rush. But the second you kind of soft set him so you set back and handle that speed rush, he'll just run right over you. So he really is an extremely difficult guy to block and we're looking for him to have a great year."

Jones was asked about some of his new offensive line teammates. It was not a surprise that an early question concerned the development of Cyrus Kouandjio. Last week Alabama Coach Nick Saban said that if Kouandjio, a 6-6, 322-pound freshman, was able to earn the job at left tackle that Jones would likely be headed back to guard.

Jones said, "Cyrus is one of the most talented kids I've seen in a long time. He's got great potential. What I like about him the most is his willingness, his earnestness, to learn what is going on. He is always asking questions, always wanting to get better. It's no secret he was extremely highly-recruited and extremely highly-touted guy. Sometimes guys like that think they know everything, but he's not like that at all. He's very hungry. I told him at the beginning of camp, ‘Cyrus, anything you want to know about the offense, you let me know.' He has lived up to that. I guess he listened to me because he has been asking me all kinds of questions about a lot of it. He's working extremely hard."

Is it ridiculous to think a freshman could come in here and start at left tackle?

"Certainly it's not ridiculous," Jones said. "He's got the talent. He's just got to continue to learn and develop. It's a huge load no matter how talented you are mentally, just learning an SEC offense in camp. So it's not ridiculous, but it's definitely going to be a challenge."

Jones has temporarily been replaced at right guard by sophomore Anthony Steen, 6-3, 303.

Jones said, "I've been so proud of Anthony because he's done a great job. (It feels odd to call him ‘Anthony' because I don't think anybody calls him ‘Anthony.' We all call him ‘Steen.') He's done a great job of stuff this year. He's gotten tons better, light years better, really. He's just improved so much and we're all going to see this year just how much he has improved. He just feels so much more comfortable in the offense and I think that's the biggest thing. He's always had the talent, but you can just tell sometimes when I guy feels comfortable and he can go out there and play fast and that's what he's learned how to do, not thinking all the time, but just go out there and play."

Last Saturday, Alabama went to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first of two fall camp scrimmage sessions. Jones said, "I think it was a good first scrimmage for us, but at the same time we have a lot of things we can learn from it. I think we feel good about where we are, but there are a lot of things we can take away from it top get better. We had a lot of positive plays. We also had a fair amount of negative plays. What we have to do is build on the positive plays and eliminate the negative plays that may have resulted from mental errors and things like that.

"The quarterbacks (A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims) both played well. Both had great plays and both had plays they'd like to go back and get fixed. I'm enjoy seeing them grow." Alabama will go back to Bryant-Denny this Saturday. Jones said it will not be the same as last Saturday.

"There is always a huge difference between the first and second scrimmage," Jones said. "The first scrimmage can at times get a little sloppy because it's the first time we've been out in kind of a game setting. We're getting all the communications down from the sideline to the quarterback to the players and working on our timing and getting everything in under the [play] clock. I think once the second scrimmage rolls around we get those kinks kind of ironed out and remember how to play football. It's just different going from practice to a game setting. We're looking to being a lot more fluid in those areas."

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