What a collective gasp the highly decorated senior center would have given Alabama fans, had they seen his near-crash to the floor Tuesday night.
He had just concluded media interviews and, with a cast on his left foot and crutches under his meaty arms, began to leave the Naylor Stone Media Room. Smiling and talking to media-relations member Josh Maxson, Jones made his way down an aisle, next to a wall.
He wasn’t looking down, and his crutches snagged power cords snaking from the wall. Imagine this headline — Jones trips after interviews, will miss BCS game.
Fortunately for second-ranked Alabama, Jones caught his balance before catching a face full of floor. Based on everything he and Alabama coach Nick Saban have said, Jones will play against Notre Dame, and that should relieve Tide fans.
Alabama has a lot of good players, but none will be more important than Jones on Jan. 7 in Miami.
He’ll have to tangle with Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III. If he can keep guards Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen from having to tangle with the 6-foot-3, 326-pound Nix, then they can get after inside linebacker Manti Te’o.
If Nix can occupy two blockers for most of the night, which he often does, then Te’o will have an easier time attacking Alabama’s running game.
There are reasons why Te’o averages 8.6 tackles a game and came away with seven of major college football’s major postseason awards, and Nix is a big reason. For Alabama fans, think of it as Rolando McClain playing behind Terrence Cody in 2008 and 2009.
McClain had 200 tackles in those two years.
Notre Dame, a 9.5-point underdog, must limit Alabama’s running game to have a chance, and the Fighting Irish rank fourth nationally against the run. It starts with how many blockers Nix can tie up, and that brings the game right to Alabama’s center.
Barrett Jones, here’s your moment, and who better?
The same guy who started for two national championship teams at two different positions can be a key to making it three national titles at three different positions.
The guy who won the Rimington and Campbell trophies for the top center and scholar athlete, respectively, this year? The guy who won the Outland Trophy as the top interior lineman in 2011?
Jones can spring his guards to block Te’o, the guy who won the Maxwell Award (outstanding player), Walter Camp Award (player of the year), Vince Lombardi/Rotary Award (outstanding lineman), Chuck Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year), Bronco Nagurski Award (defensive player of the year), Dick Butkus Award (outstanding linebacker) and Lott IMPACT Trophy (outstanding defensive player).
Te’o won all of those awards this year, so he’s kind of important, especially in the whole run-stopping effort.
All Jones has to do is win his game-within-a-game against one of the nation’s top nose tackles. Jones just has to occupy Nix, who holds a 24-pound edge.
Jones comes well-prepared for his big moment. He just did it against Georgia’s John Jenkins, who had a 55-pound edge.
Jones did it on his sprained left foot from sometime in the first quarter on, and Alabama rushed for an SEC Championship-record 350 yards.
How bad is Jones’ sprain? Bad enough for a cast and crutches. Bad enough for him to spend the first week of practice for the national championship game on an exercise bike.
Saban said it’s all “precautionary” and Jones will play. But will he play at 100 percent? Alabama needs him to, so good on the coaching staff for all of the “precautionary” measures.
Oh, and everyone involved might want to keep Jones’ walkways clear. He has a real important role in keeping Alabama’s runways clear against Notre Dame.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.