Jones Leads Return Of WR Starters

Two years ago if it could have been known that an Alabama football signee was going to win the Heisman Trophy, few would have doubted the recipient would be wide receiver Julio Jones. And Jones may well win the award one day. For now, though, it is his classmate, tailback Mark Ingram, who has the famous statue.

But Alabama might not have gone 14-0 and Mark Ingram might not have won the Heisman if it had not been for the play of Julio Jones in 2009. The upcoming junior wide receiver didn't have the greatest of years statistically as a receiver, but he was the consummate team player as he accepted double coverage and did the blocking for his mates.

Jones was Alabama's leading receiver in 2009 with 43 receptions for 596 yards and four touchdowns. Those are far from gaudy statistics. There are explanations in addition to the double coverage Jones usually draws. For one, with Ingram and Trent Richardson effectively running the football, Alabama didn't have to rely on the pass a great deal. Bama was not often behind in its national championship run. Some might point to a first-year quarterback, and Greg McElroy did have fewer passes than many other quarterbacks. Additionally, Jones has played his first two seasons at Alabama with many injuries. He missed one game last year. And, in all honestly, Jones had more dropped passes than might have been expected.

In any event, there are no college football teams that would not like to have Julio Jones in the line-up.

Jones is the leader of the Crimson Tide receiving corps which goes back to work with the rest of the Alabama football team with the start of spring football practice Friday. Curt Cignetti is the assistant coach who tutors Bama wide receivers.

Alabama lost only one wide receiver from last year's corps, Mike McCoy, who had 10 receptions for 149 yards and one touchdown in his senior season.

Alabama uses a lot of formations, usually using two wide receivers (split end and flanker), but sometimes adding a slot receiver. And Tide players are capable of playing more than one of those spots, so this "depth chart" could be far off what emerges.

For our purposes, however, of the continuing series looking at Alabama positions on the eve of spring practice, we list Julio Jones (6-4, 211) as the top split end, upcoming junior Marquis Maze (5-9, 179) as the number one flanker, and Darius Hanks (6-0, 184, junior) as the starting slotback. Jones started 13 games last year (missing the North Texas game with injury), Maze started 11 games, and Hanks started six. In the six games started by Hanks, Bama opened with three wide receivers.

Possible back-ups for Jones could include senior Earl Alexander (6-4, 212) and sophomore Michael Bowman (6-4, 210). Alexander had four catches for 52 yards last year. Bowman had one reception for seven yards. There have been rumors of Bowman possibly moving to tight end.

Maze was Alabama's second-leading receiver in 2009 with 31 catches for 523 yards and two touchdowns. Two redshirt freshmen are anticipated to be productive beginning this year. Both Kevin Norwood (6-2, 180) and Kenny Bell (6-1, 160) get rave reviews from Bama defensive players.

Last year Hanks was Bama's fifth-leading receiver with 17 receptions for 272 yards and three touchdowns. Other flanker candidates could include junior Brandon Gibson (6-1, 196), who had two catches for 25 yards. Looking for a surprise star in 2010? It might be redshirt freshman Kendall Kelly, who had to have surgery and was unable to play last year. Senior Travis Sikes (6-3, 198) is also listed as a flanker.

Wide receiver is a spot where walk-ons have made their marks in the past. Among those expected in spring practice are junior Michael Strickland (5-10, 173), senior Robert Ezell (5-10, 170), and redshirt freshman Nick Williams (5-10, 165), the son of Tide Assistant Coach Bobby Williams.

Alabama concludes spring practice with the A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday, April 17. There is no admission charge. The game will be nationally televised by ESPN.

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