Why Can't Bama Get Ball To Julio?

Last year there were two great freshmen wide receivers in the Southeastern Conference. One of them, Georgia's A.J. Green, is having a super sophomore year, leading the league in both receptions per game and receiving yards per game.

The other great freshman of 2008, Alabama's Julio Jones, is nowhere to be found in SEC statistics. While Green has 25 receptions for 428 yards and four touchdowns in four games, Jones has played in just over three games and has only 9 receptions for 133 yards and one touchdown.

The man in charge of getting the ball to Julio has heard plenty about it, particularly in interviews.

"Just because Julio's not catching balls doesn't mean he's not involved," said Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy. "He's very involved. Four eyes are on him every time we snap the ball—two from the safety and two from the corner(back). He makes a difference whether he catches the ball or not."

Even with Jones not much a part of the offense statistically, Alabama is doing nicely, ranked third in the nation and undefeated in five games. This week Bama goes to Oxford to take on the Ole Miss Rebels. Last year Jones had three receptions for 65 yards against Mississippi, including one catch that set up Alabama's first touchdown in a 24-20 Crimson Tide win.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, "It's a combination of several things" for Jones not having a big statistical season. The coach pointed out that Jones was injured in the first few minutes of the second game of the season and missed the rest of that game against Florida International and all of the next week against North Texas.

"He's worked hard to try and get back to where he was," Saban said. "I do think he gets a significant amount of attention in the game and I think that creates opportunities for other people, which really without developing statistics, you are doing a lot to help your team win.

McElroy hears it all the time. He said, "People continue to question, ‘Why can't you get the ball to Julio? Why can't you get the ball in his hands? He's such a great player!' Yeah, he is a great player, and that's why we can't get it in his hands sometimes.

"I'm going to put the ball where my reads take me. The fact he is such a great target and a great talent, the other teams are going to do their best to limit his touches and his production.

"We're very fortunate. In years past we haven't always had a lot of solid wide receiver depth. But now we do. We have guys who come off the bench and make plays. I'm not sure how many guys caught passes last week, but it was a solid number. The fact we have that depth along the wide receiver corps is a big reason we have been successful in the offense.

"Julio is so unselfish. He understands I'm going to give him the ball when I can. And I want to get him the ball the best I know how. But when my reads take me elsewhere, I'm not going to force it."

Jones lone touchdown this year came on something of a trick play. From midfield against Arkansas, the Tide came out in Wildcat formation, McElroy split out behind Jones. McElroy got the ball on a double handoff and found Jones all alone downfield. McElroy wanted to make sure the ball wasn't overthrown and Jones had to wait for the ball, allowing a defender to catch up as he caught it just outside the 20-yard line. Jones caught it and brushed the defender away and sprinted into the end zone.

McElroy remembered a more uncomfortable time trying to get the ball to Jones.

In the season-opener against Virginia Tech in Atlanta, McElroy started his Alabama career as starting quarterback by completing only two of his first 12 pass attempts. "Ten of those passes were targeted at Julio," McElroy said. "You can't have that. I've learned my lesson, not to force the ball."

Saban doesn't expect Jones to be forgotten. "I also think that we continue to try to get him involved in what we can do," the coach said. "He has been on top of people and we haven't gotten him the ball. I think if he continues to do the things he is doing, his time's going to come."

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