"(Charles) has got excellent foot speed," explained Tide Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush. "You'd like for him to be a little bit bigger, but he runs very well. He's got very good football intelligence. He's become more consistent and will continue as things go along. He brings very good athleticism to the table."
"At the same time, Reggie (Myles, the senior incumbent starter at free safety) understands," Torbush continued. "Right now he needs to have a good week of practice so he'll have an opportunity to play on Saturday."
Myles, a senior who has started for most of his career in the Tide secondary, began the season solidly entrenched No. 1 at free safety. But some missed plays--and more significantly, some missed assignments--landed Myles on the bench last Saturday. And Jones was an adequate replacement. "I guess the coaches thought I was doing good," Jones said. "We did give up some big plays, but I played all right. I think I'm playing pretty well. I've just got to keep on learning--learning every day."
Though Myles started the game, he ended up with only 18 plays versus South Carolina, with Jones participating in 43. Torbush assessed his performance; "I don't think Charles missed a beat. It was probably good that he came off the bench, but he had a pretty consistent ball game. He made a few mistakes, but they are all correctable mistakes. We expect him to get better."
Having spent the majority of his time in high school on the offensive side of the football, Jones had a greater adjustment to make than most in preparing for college competition. He took a redshirt his first season on campus, and the Waynesboro, Georgia native didn't see any action last year either as he worked to learn defense. "It wasn't a total switch, because I played free safety in high school as well," Jones related. "The only thing different is the publicity. This is an offensive game, basically. The offensive players get all the glory. But I think I switched over pretty well."
As an option quarterback at Burke County High School, Jones accumulated more than 4,000 yards of offense in his prep career. "The toughest adjustment was not getting any touchdowns," he continued. "Not getting any touchdowns to catch or thrown. That was the biggest thing. And hitting--hitting all the time. I had the (physical) mentality all the time, but you go from playing offense, which is more finesse to defense. Defense is contact all the time."
Of course as Torbush explained, it's hardly unusual for college teams to fill out their secondaries with former prep QBs. "Most high school teams are going to put their best athlete at quarterback, especially if they're a running team. Roman Harper, Anthony Madison, Thurman Ward were all that way, including Jones. We've got several guys in the secondary that were quarterbacks.
"Quite honestly, I'd like to have as many of those guys that we can, because I think they understand the game of football better."
Jones was a successful prep athlete. But like virtually every football player in the country, moving up to the collegiate level proved to be a shock. Jones explained; "It's completely different from high school to college. The speed of the game is way faster than high school. In high school you maybe can take a play off--not so much take a play off, but you don't have to go hard every play. But in college you've got to go hard every play. It's rapid fire. If there's one play you don't go hard, then you get beat deep. It's a lot different--a whole lot different."
Jones also had some growing to do. "When I first arrived I was maybe 155 or 160 pounds--soaking wet," he said with a laugh. "I was a little, skinny dude. Now I'm about 180 or 185. I've gained more than 20 pounds, which is a big improvement for me."
"It's getting three square meals a day," he continued. "They feed us well two times a day, and then we eat lunch. You ate in high school, but it's a different way of eating. You ate when you wanted to eat and ate what you wanted to."
Jones is listed on the roster at free safety, but he explained that the difference between ‘free' and ‘strong' is not really that great. "The strong safety is another form of a cornerback, but they've got to come up in run support. At free safety we help where help is needed. There's not too much difference. The only real difference is the strong safety plays more man-to-man coverage than the free safety."
As much a result of poor play from Reggie Myles as anything else, Jones is now pushing to start at free safety. "Reggie did not have a good game," Franchione said. "But Charles is getting better."
"I don't believe Charles has let a ball go over his head," was his head coach's comment about his play versus the Gamecocks.
On the surface, that is hardly a ringing endorsement. But when considered in light of Franchione's oft-repeated line that ‘more games are lost than won,' the cryptic assessment reveals a lot. The Tide coaches are looking for defensive backs that will prevent the team from losing a game, probably more than ones that might make a big play--but also give up another one later on.
As a testament to the overall poor performance by Bama's defensive backs Saturday, the Tide coaches did not name a Player of the Game for the secondary. But while the staff was clearly dissatisfied with the production from the Tide DBs, they are also being careful not to destroy any athlete's confidence.
And Coach Ron Case, a veteran of more than 30 years coaching--not to mention an earlier career in the Marine Corps, is the ideal man to communicate the message. Jones explained; "After the game, he just told us ‘You know what we've got to do.' Get better.
"Coach Case is cool. He's just a laid-back guy. He's cool to hang around. He's never up-tight. Every time you see him, he's collected. Cool. No worries. We've got to practice hard and get better. That's it."
Words to live by for the young safety.
"You play like you practice," Jones said. "I've just got to practice hard. Practice hard on every play. I've got to concentrate on not giving up any deep balls. Basically, you don't even want a receiver to catch a ball in practice. If you do that, then you can come through in a game."