It wasn’t that long ago, really.
His size, speed and ability to make plays made him the first name on opposing scouting reports. Then Jones sprained a knee in the second game of the 2009 season just as his good buddy Mark Ingram became a household name outside of Alabama.
Fittingly, it was a minor knee injury that kept Ingram off the field on the night Jones made his move and one of those catches that will be remembered for quite some time.
Hauling in all six of his receptions and 93 yards in the first 35 minutes of Alabama’s 48-3 win over San Jose State, Jones showed flashes of his breakout freshman season and that fourth-quarter drive that won last season’s Iron Bowl.
His first three catches — good for gains of six, 17 and six again — were a statement even if unintentional.
“It felt great,” Jones said. “I really feel like they have confidence in me. Going through the process in the spring and summer, I feel like they trust me more this year, and that got me some more catches early on.”
Taking what the defense gave, quarterback Greg McElroy loosened up the run-focused Spartans by hitting Jones on wide receiver screens on the first and third throws of the evening.
“We tried to do some things to compliment the running game that will be helpful for people not being able to load the box, so if we get certain looks we just throw it out there,” coach Nick Saban said.
The receiver used his size and physical style on a punishing 13-yard end around out of the Wildcat package to set up the game’s first score.
Then there was his one-handed, diving cradle of AJ McCarron’s second collegiate throw that effectively topped off his big night. Offensive lineman Barrett Jones called it one of the best catches he’d ever seen, but also said “the guy does stuff like that on a pretty regular basis.”
From Jones’ perspective: “In the air, I kind of bobbled it, but I just grabbed it.”
McCarron needed the roar of the crowd to realize what he couldn’t see.
“All I saw was Nach, my center (William Vlachos) in front of me and we just chest bumped,” McCarron said.
Saturday’s big outing came on the same day as the other premier SEC receiver was idle on the Georgia sideline. It was A.J. Green who nosed ahead of Jones as the conference’s pass-catching star, but an ongoing investigation into that troublesome Miami agent party kept the Bulldog from making an impact in a real stat-padder of a win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
It wasn’t all glory for Jones, though.
An old nemesi — the unforced drop — ended McElroy’s streak of six straight completions to open the game.
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star.