Bama's Jones grabs spotlight with huge game
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP)
To the rest of the country, maybe. Just not to the guys who see the top-ranked Crimson Tide's receiver/return man in action daily in practice.
''I've seen it in him,'' Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio said. ''He's been working really hard. You can see how hard he's been working and it's starting to come out.
''I'm not surprised about Christion's performance because he's been working really hard. We all see it. We're not blind.''
Jones opened plenty of other eyes, though. He returned Virginia Tech's first punt 72 yards for a touchdown and added a 94-yard kickoff return in the second quarter, with a 38-yard TD catch for good measure.
His performance helped turn an otherwise mostly mundane offensive debut for the Tide into a 35-10 rout of the Hokies in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Jones also ensured that the game became a largely stress-free tuneup for one of the season's more anticipated matchups.
Jones won't catch the Aggies unaware. He was named Walter Camp national offensive player of the week.
Despite solid stats, he was often overshadowed by fellow receiver Amari Cooper, tailback T.J. Yeldon and quarterback AJ McCarron. None of the more well-known trio had big games in the opener.
McCarron was 10-of-23 passing for 110 yards with an interception and touchdown while getting sacked four times behind an offensive line with three new starters. Yeldon ran for 75 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries and Cooper caught four passes for 38 yards.
Then there was Jones, who became the first Football Bowl Subdivision player to return a punt and kickoff for touchdowns in the same game since 2006.
''He changed the game for all of us,'' said Tide safety Landon Collins, calling Jones one of the best athletes on a team loaded with them.
Jones left three defenders sprawled on the ground on his punt return before racing down the left sideline. He seemed bottled up early on the kick return but pinballed off Virginia Tech players and sprinted down the right sideline.
''I broke a tackle, came around and then the guys were still blocking, but it seemed like V. Tech didn't think that the play was over with,'' Jones said of his second return. ''But the guys still kept playing. That's one thing that we do. If the whistle's not blown, we're going to keep playing and that's what our guys did.''
Jones finished with 256 all-purpose yards.
He also had a 99-yard kickoff return against Mississippi last season. But the Tide hadn't scored on a punt return since Marquis Maze's 83-yarder against Arkansas nearly two years ago.
Jones' longest punt return was 31 yards last season. The Tide's 21 kick returns was easily the fewest chances of any SEC team, thanks mostly to the nation's top scoring defense.
Saban said the team speed and Jones' experience both help.
''I think that people take for granted that just because a guy has a lot of skill, that it doesn't take experience to be a good returner,'' he said. ''I think it does. I think just the judgment of when to take the shot, catch the ball. We have a lot of guys that are good on special teams. That's helpful.
''We want our return game to be a weapon for us, and it certainly was for us.''
What do you get a team that seemingly has it all? A dangerous return game, perhaps, if the first game was an indicator.
''We prepare like crazy for the kicking game, and I think that really plays a big part in our team,'' Jones said. ''Special teams is very, very important for the Alabama team. So we just use that for momentum, and that's what we did (Saturday night).''