Think About A Healthy Julio

This can't be comforting to defensive coordinators preparing to play Alabama for the next couple of years. Bama wide receiver Julio Jones was SEC Freshman of the Year (national Freshman of the Year by the Columbus, Ohio, Touchdown Club). He is a pre-season All-America and a unanimous selection to be All-SEC in his sophomore season. He shattered Crimson Tide freshman receiving records last year.

And now we learn that Julio Jones had injuries far more serious than anyone knew when he was helping Alabama to a 12-2 record in 2008. In fact, in only four of those games—the first four of the season—was Jones healthy.

In a blowout win over Georgia in Athens, a game in which Jones made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch just before halftime to give Bama a 31-0 lead—Jones suffered a sports hernia. He had five receptions for 94 yards in Athens, but didn't have a catch after halftime.

Later in the year, against Tennessee, Jones had the first of his four 100-yard receiving games. He also suffered two more injuries, one to his wrist, one to his shoulder.

All three injuries required post-season surgery. ranked Jones the nation's number one receiver when he came out of Foley High School. He lived up to that billing as he started all 14 Alabama games and broke Bama records held by the likes of Ozzie Newsome with a team-leading 58 receptions for 924 yards and four touchdowns.

He had numerous key receptions during the year, including a 35-yard catch against Tennessee that was critical in the 29-9 victory. His overtime grab at LSU set up the winning touchdown in overtime to clinch the SEC Western Division championship for the Tide. In the SEC Championship Game against Florida, Jones had five receptions for 124 yards, including a dramatic 64-yarder to set u a touchdown.

Jones had 41 catches for first downs and/or touchdowns.

Obviously, Jones has great talent. He also has a great work ethic.

"He came in here knowing what he needed to do," said fellow wide receiver Mike McCoy, a senior who doesn't hide his great admiration for Julio. "He's a special talent. He's just a phenomenal player. I mean, he really can't be denied."

Jones, 6-4, 211, said that his recipe for success is to "go out there and work hard."

This year he's working on some new things. Alabama Coach Nick Saban said that Julio and other Bama wide receivers are learning different wide receiver positions. Saban said they didn't try to give Jones too much as a freshman, and Jones was a split end throughout the year. This year Julio is also learning flanker and slotback assignments.

"He's certainly ready to do that, he's doing it effectively," Saban said. "I think it will be a benefit to us."

Jones said he's not having any trouble with the new assignments. "It's coming real easy," he said. "My being here a year, I already knew half the positions, so I can learn more routes and different things playing other positions."

Julio said he doesn't worry about double teams. "That's what I've got teammates for," he said.

Nor is he worried about Alabama's opening game when the fifth-ranked Crimson Tide takes on seventh-rated Virginia Tech in a key early season game in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sept. 5. "The game will get here," he said. "I'm concerned with practicing hard to be the best I can be."

Most would say it is just fine if Julio continues as he was as a freshman. Jones has higher aspirations. "I can get better in everything," he said. Speed, route-running, everything. I just have to keep working."

He's also working to help his teammates, particularly the freshmen wide receivers. "I hang out with all the freshmen," Jones said. "They ask me questions. I answer them to the best of my knowledge, and give them what I learned."

Jones has proved to be as popular with his fellow students as he is with Crimson Tide football fans. In this year's SGA elections, students wrote his name in for a Senate seat…and he won. Julio said he was "shocked" since he had not campaigned and had not been aware of any write-in campaign. He also said he would serve. "Why not?" he said.

On Sunday, Alabama will have Fan Day. Jones figures to be a popular attraction for autograph-seekers. It doesn't bother Julio. "I look forward to it because maybe I can make somebody's day," he said.

He's done that before on a lot of Saturdays. And Crimson Tide followers expect more of the same. And if Julio is healthy, it might be even better.

TIDE NOTES: Alabama held its third football practice of the 2009 fall training camp on Saturday with a two-hour workout on the grass fields at the Thomas-Drew Practice Facility.

It marked the first opportunity of the fall for the Crimson Tide players to put on the pads as the Tide donned shoulder pads and helmets. UA will put on full pads Monday.

It marked the second straight day that the varsity and newcomers practiced at the same time. The fifth-ranked Crimson Tide return eight starters on the defensive side of the ball for 2009 but are looking to replace seven starters on offense, including three on the offensive line.

Three Alabama players--quarterback Greg McElroy (business marketing), defensive end Lorenzo Washington (human environmental science) and wide receiver Travis Sikes (consumer affairs)--participated in commencement ceremonies Saturday morning prior to the start of practice.

"It was an great thing to walk across the stage this morning and graduate," Washington said after Saturday's practice. "It really shows what five years of hard work and dedication can achieve. It was a long race, like a marathon, that you can't see the end, but when you finally get to the finish line it is an amazing feeling."

Preseason honors continue to roll in for the Tide this week with the selection of senior cornerback Javier Arenas to the Jim Thorpe Award "watch list." Arenas, who is a Playboy Preseason All-America as a return specialist and a first-team preseason All-SEC choice at cornerback, is among 31 defensive backs from across the nation named to the Thorpe Award's initial list of candidates.

The Thorpe Award is one of college football's most sought after and prestigious awards. It is named after history's greatest all-around athlete, a man who excelled as a running back, passer and kicker on offense, but also was an awesome defensive back. Recognized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame simply as "The Legend", Thorpe also played professional baseball and won Olympic gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon.

The Crimson Tide will hold its annual Fan Day on Sunday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Fan Day will begin with an open practice from 2:30-4:30 p.m. Following practice, players and coaches will be available for autographs on the field. Fans may enter the stadium beginning at 1:30 p.m. through the northeast gates (37-38).

BamaMag Top Stories