Win one for the Joneser?

Besides playing for their team and The University of Alabama, Chris Ball and his secondary unit have a personal motivation this year. <br><br>"As a group we want to send Charles Jones out on a winning note," Ball said.

As sports stories go, this one doesn't exactly rank up there with "win one for the Gipper." After all Jones isn't terminally ill; he's not battling injury--heck, he's just about the healthiest young man you're likely to meet.

So why the emphasis on Jones?

Charles Jones in action versus Auburn. (Barry Fikes photo)

Chris Ball explained, "Charles stayed through this mess. He's a great kid that cares about The University of Alabama. He stuck with Alabama. He stuck with his teammates. He wants to win.

"That's one guy we need to send off here with a great record."

A fifth-year senior, each of the last two seasons Jones could have transferred to another school with no penalty. But after what he's been through during his tenure at The Capstone, a crowbar couldn't have pried him loose from Tuscaloosa.

After two extremely frustrating seasons in which he was essentially ignored and buried deep on the depth chart, Jones finally got a chance to play as a redshirt sophomore. He saw action in 10-of-11 games that season, starting five. Last year he was the only defender to start all 13 games. Jones was the team's third-leading tackler, tops among defensive backs. He had two interceptions and forced three fumbles.

This year, Jones is the only senior starter in the secondary. "Charles is like the old man," Ball said. "He's the one the younger guys fire questions at. He's the one that knows the coverages--where you're supposed to be."

Head Coach Mike Shula appreciates what Jones means to the team. "Charles has done a great job," said of his veteran safety. "He's got some leadership. He's the oldest of the group. They all rally around him a little bit, and that's going to be important during the season."

Jones works out in the weight room.

Other Tide DBs have more flash and sizzle, but Jones is the one they look to for leadership. "He's not a very vocal guy, but he leads by example," Ball said. "He's always there to talk to the kids. He's always there to make the checks.

"He's just a quality, quality player."

But don't confuse his steady demeanor for mediocrity. Jones is also one of the faster defensive backs on the squad. In the second scrimmage of fall camp, he stepped in front of a receiver on a corner route and proceeded to outrun half the offense down the sideline for a touchdown.

The play covered 35 yards and brought back memories of his option-quarterback days in high school. "I was just in the right place at the right time," Jones said. "The ball was tipped. I was able to show a little bit of my speed. I outran a few guys.

"I showed a little bit of my old high school skills."

Jones knows all too well that as a senior he bears responsibility for leadership. "The entire secondary has been competing every day," he said. "We've all been working hard, trying to get better."

By the end of last year, free safety Jones and strong safety Waine Bacon had become virtual twins. Having played together for most of two seasons, the two could anticipate each other's moves.

Jones will be Bama's lone senior starter in the secondary.

Bacon of course is now covering receivers for the Atlanta Falcons, but Jones thinks new starter Roman Harper can be just as good. "Roman played some last year, so he's got some experience," Jones said. "He and I have an understanding already of what we want to do."

Both Shula and Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines have gone out of their way to praise Bama's safeties this fall. Kines especially states firmly that he has no worries about safety.

"Roman and I know each others ins and outs," Jones said. "We're already like me and Waine were last year. He knows me and I know him. It won't take us too long before we're a close unit."

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