ST. LOUIS — When Rams rookie Barrett Jones played in the BCS Championship Game with torn ligaments in his left foot, he knew surgery that could curtail his preparation for the NFL draft would be required.
It didn’t matter. With the chance to help Alabama win its third national championship in his four years, sitting out against Notre Dame was as likely as a transfer to Auburn.
“It was very painful but well worth it,” Jones said. “My last game. My 50th start. To end it like that, beating Notre Dame (42-14) was definitely worth the temporary pain.”
The pain has passed but, more than six months later, Jones isn’t back on the football field. He watched from the sidelines when Rams rookies opened training camp Monday. The Rams don’t expect Jones to be cleared by Thursday afternoon, either, when full-squad workouts begin at Rams Park.
“He’s close but he’s not quite ready,” coach Jeff Fisher said Monday. “He’s doing really well right now. Maybe a week or two.”
“It’s definitely hard for me not to be out there. I’m not a very good waiter/sitter,” Jones said. “The NFL is a long-term business, I’m starting to learn. Staying healthy and longevity are really emphasized here. The mindset they’ve had is that they don’t need me this week. They need me over the long haul.”
Jones underwent Lisfranc (mid-foot) surgery two days after the national championship game, with doctors inserting titanium plates in his left foot to ensure the ligaments would heal correctly. The plates were removed last month and all wounds have healed, Jones said.
“You can leave (the plates) in there,” Jones said. “But it causes a lot of irritation. Metal in your body doesn’t feel natural. It feels really weird.”
Jones said he can run without issue and has been doing some drill work. He will be cleared for workouts when the Rams’ medical staff believes his left foot is strong enough to withstand the pressure that comes from trying to push off against 300-pound-plus defensive linemen.
“That’s why we’ve been careful,” Jones said. “I think it’s definitely really close to being to that point.”
How much Jones’ draft status was affected by missing out on pre-draft workouts is not known. Some pre-draft scouting reports docked him for lacking the athleticism needed to excel in the NFL. The Rams, however, were more than happy to snatch him in the fourth round and sign him to a four-year deal reported to be worth $2.605 million.
Fisher has said he expects to use Jones, listed at 6 feet 4, 306 pounds, as a backup wherever needed on the offensive line this season. The role should suit Jones, who started at center last season, at left tackle as a junior and at right guard in his first two seasons at Alabama. He’s ready for anything with the Rams.
“I’ll play anywhere I can help the team,” he said. “I just want to see the field. If that’s wide receiver, if Tavon (Austin) needs a blow or something, then I’ll go out there and play that.”
Wherever he played at Alabama, Jones excelled. He was a three-time All-American, won the Rimington Award as the nation’s top center in 2012 and took home the Outland Trophy as the top interior lineman in 2011.
He also was a four-time Academic All-American and already holds a master’s degree in accounting. And, oh yeah, he won the William V. Campbell Trophy last year, an honor given to the nation’s premier football scholar/athlete by the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame.
His college coach, Nick Saban, was suitably impressed by the 23-year-old from Memphis. “If we were still trying to get to the moon, Barrett Jones would be my first nomination to be the astronaut to get us there,” Saban told reporters in Alabama last summer.
Jones’ toughness should never be questioned. He didn’t even come out of the game when he hurt his foot in the first quarter of the SEC championship game in what he called a “freak injury.”
“I planted and twisted, kind of one of those things. There’s nothing I could have done to prepare or prevent it,” Jones said. “I was blocking a 360-pounder (Georgia’s Kwame Geathers). That didn’t help.”
The only play he missed was when he left for the locker room one play before the end of the first half, though he was on crutches for the postgame ceremony. Asked how much risk he took by playing in the national championship game a month later, Jones shrugged.
“It was already torn, so I guess there’s not a whole lot more I could have done to it,” he said.
There’s not much he can do now except remain patient, a challenge that’s not getting easier.
“I can’t wait to get back out there,” he said. “Excuse me, (not) back out there. I mean just out there. I’ve never been out there.” You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.