Attention on Jones gives others opening
By JOHN ZENOR
AP Sports Writer
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Julio Jones scanned the ballroom bustling with reporters and photographers, drawing comfort from at least being able to share the spotlight’s glare with the rest of No. 1 Alabama’s players.
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“I’m here with my teammates now so I feel a little more comfortable,” the soft-spoken Crimson Tide receiver said at Tuesday’s BCS championship game media day. “I just don’t like doing single stuff.”
Jones seldom has to worry about single stuff on the field, facing frequent double teams that don’t faze him nearly as much as having to talk about himself before a microphone. He’ll almost certainly see more of the same Thursday night when the Tide faces No. 2 Texas.
From both the media and opposing defenses, the talented Jones gets most of the attention among Alabama’s receivers even though he just barely leads the team in receiving. He doesn’t mind being the focus of the secondary, figuring that opens up things for fellow receivers Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks and tight end Colin Peek.
“They’re very underrated,” Jones said. “When people double-team me, all those other guys are going to hurt them.”
They should get some chances to try. The Tide (13-0) and Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Mark Ingram are facing the nation’s top-ranked run defense. The Longhorns are allowing just 62.2 yards a game on the ground.
The Tide, meanwhile, is used to having opposing defenses gear up to stop the run. Quarterback Greg McElroy has been able to take advantage lately, passing for 457 yards the past two games against Auburn and Florida.
It hasn’t all been Jones either. Against the Gators, Maze led the way with a career-high 96 yards and all five of his catches went for first downs and helped set up five scores. Jones had two catches.
Texas All-America safety Earl Thomas said focusing too much on Jones can be dangerous.
“They have a great receiving corps,” Thomas said. “I think a lot of teams get caught up with Julio Jones, but they don’t give the other three guys the recognition they deserve. They’re great players also.”
Jones, who missed one game and most of another with a bruised knee, has 42 catches for 573 yards and four touchdowns. Maze has 519 yards receiving and a team-best 17.3-yard average. Then there’s Hanks and the 6-foot-6 Peek, who both are hovering around 300 yards.
Jones, Maze and Hanks are all sophomores but only Jones was a big contributor last season.
“Most people say we only have one receiver,” Maze said, “so that really motivated me to go out this summer and work harder and progress.”
The lack of attention hasn’t put a damper on Hanks’ confidence.
“I feel like we can be unstoppable out there,” he said. “I feel like there’s no other team in the nation that has three wideouts like us. I feel like we’re all great receivers, and we all can be great receivers at the next level.”
As for Peek: “He’s the big cruiser. I feel like nobody can stop the four of us,” Hanks said.
But Jones has most consistently been the go-to guy. He had four catches on the game-winning touchdown drive against Auburn, and turned a screen into a 73-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of a close win over LSU.
He’s the 6-foot-4, 211-pound physical specimen who can break tackles and fight off smaller defensive backs to get to the ball, with enough speed to make him a downfield threat.
“To me, he lives up to the hype,” Longhorns cornerback Aaron Williams said. “He’s a big guy and he’s going to do whatever it takes to get the ball.”
The potential Williams-and-Jones matchup could be especially intriguing. Jones was rated the nation’s top receiver prospect two years ago, at the same time Rivals.com rated Williams the nation’s top DB.
Does he relish the challenge?
“That’s just like asking a linebacker, Do you like going against the Heisman Trophy winner?” Williams said. “It’s great.”