For Tide fans grown weary of waiting for Alabama to actually use the tight end in its offense, Tuesday's scrimmage in which Terry Jones Jr. totaled 39 yards on three receptions to lead all Bama receivers was a relief. But only time will tell whether it proves to be a revelation. "One of the things that people have a hard time understanding is there aren't any passes where you say ‘Go back and throw it to the tight end,'" Franchione explained. "You've got reads. If the defense takes away one, then you've got to go to the other one. If they take away the tight end, then another player has got to be open. Sometimes the question of how you'll use your tight end depends on where the quarterback's read takes him with the ball."
As the Tide staff is fond of explaining, the defense will actually dictate how the tight end is used. The idea is to force the defense to honor all your offensive weapons. But if they choose to double up on a wideout, leaving the Bama tight end uncovered, then it could be show-time for Terry Jones Jr. "We're going to mix it up," he said. "We're trying to go deep and spread the ball around. It's just that today we got a lot of short passes going. The short stuff was open today."
Explained Franchione, "The tight ends are going to be blockers first. That's how they are going to earn their tuition. But T.J. made a couple of nice catches in traffic today, and I liked that. They're not going to catch 65 balls during the course of the season, but I think they can help. I think we see Terry Jones as one of our better players."
As a veteran athlete who has started virtually every game he's played at Alabama, Jones appears set for a big year in the new offense. "Like (Coach Fran has) been telling everybody, he's going to try to get the ball to the playmakers," Jones said. "If he sees me as a playmaker, then I'm going to get the ball. It's just whoever can make things happen, and hopefully I can do that."
Overall the Bama defense dominated the first scrimmage, but Jones' touchdown reception straight down the middle of the Tide secondary was a highlight. "I was just open," he explained. "The quarterback saw me open and threw me the ball. My job was just to catch it."
But his other impressive play--a catch-and-run down the left sideline in which he carried safety Reggie Myles on his back for several yards--brought back a bad memory. "That one almost reminded me of the play where I got hurt versus South Carolina, but I've got to keep on working through it," Jones revealed.
Defense normally dominates in the early going, and Jones acknowledged that he and his fellow offensive players have work to do. "On a scale of 1-10, I'd say the offense is probably about a six," Jones said. "It's going to be a pretty good offense when we get used to it, but a couple of more scrimmages and we'll get better. We've got a whole lot of room to improve. For a first scrimmage situation the substitution stuff went pretty good. After we got tired, we started to get lackadaisical and started not going as hard as we could. But we'll get better with it."
As Jones mentioned earlier, his 2000 season was abruptly ended when a knee injury suffered against South Carolina. But rehab and healing finished, Jones was anxious to return to the practice field. "Everybody dreads two-a-days, but I'm kind of happy to be back out here to see how I am," he said. "Nobody likes to practice, and I don't like to practice either. But I've got to practice to see how I am."
One of the main reasons for Alabama's offensive struggles Tuesday morning was its young, still-learning offensive line. "The O-Line is doing pretty good, Jones explained. "It's a new system for everybody, and they've got to get adjusted. They're starting to gel together, getting on the same page. When that happens we'll be fine up front."
One of Jones' greatest strengths as an athlete is definitely his run-blocking ability. But he's also enjoying the thought that this could be his big year as a receiver. "Like they say," Franchione joked. "‘The tight end is ALWAYS open.'"