Remember Rams C Barrett Jones? He's bigger, stronger and ready to compete
Few college players come to the NFL as highly decorated as center Barrett Jones. But he also arrived with a bad foot injury. After what amounted to a redshirt rookie season, a more physically imposing Jones is ready to bid for a key role on the Rams' O-line.
Barrett Jones says the injury that caused him to miss most of his rookie season was 'frustrating.'
Matthew Emmons / USA TODAY Sports
By Howard Balzer
ST. LOUIS -- It was a long year for Rams center Barrett Jones, but one he realized he would have to endure before being able to show the team's coaches what he can do.
Jones was accustomed to playing and winning while at the University of Alabama, where he was on three national championship teams. But he suffered a Lisfranc injury to his foot in the Crimson Tide's SEC Championship Game win over Georgia in 2012. He opted to play with the injury in the national championship game win over Notre Dame before having immediate surgery.
Selected by the Rams in the fourth round of last year's draft, Jones knew getting back in football shape and getting stronger would be the goal for his rookie season. He appeared in three December games, all on special teams, but that was it.
"It was somewhat frustrating," Jones said at the start of 2014 training camp. "But I had a feeling the way it was going to be. I knew it was going to take about a year to fully recover. It was almost like a redshirt year. I was able to hit the weight room hard. My body is a lot better and I lost a ton of body fat. I got in great shape and I feel good."
The hard work continued in the offseason, and as camp opened, Jones has been alternating days on the first and second team with Tim Barnes because Scott Wells, who started 12 games last season, hasn't been practicing. Friday and Sunday, he worked with the second unit, and was with the starters Saturday.
Even without pads, Jones could tell the difference in working with the first unit compared with the second group.
"It was great working with the ones," he said. "The pace is much greater. I got so much better today and learned a lot."
Coach Jeff Fisher noted that Jones is in a much different place than he was last year at this time.
"Barrett was coming off the injury and really couldn't do much," Fisher said. "He spent a lot of time in the second half of the year and through the entire offseason in the weight room. He's changed his body, he's gotten much much more strength inside; his feet are moving a lot."
Jones got plenty of on-field acclaim at Alabama, where he was a three-time All-American and won both the Rimington Trophy (best center) and Outland Trophy (best interior lineman) while playing tackle, guard and center. He was often described as a cerebral player with the Crimson Tide. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in accounting, and he won the William V. Campbell Trophy, which recognizes football's top student-athlete -- in essence, the academic Heisman. Clearly a bright guy.
It was even reported that he would help coaches with the game plan each week at Bama. When that was mentioned, Jones laughed and said: "That was a little exaggerated. It came from our version of you guys (media)."
However, he acknowledged loving the challenge of learning an offense, especially now on the NFL level, where there is so much more to digest and there is more time available to do it.
"There's plenty of time for the coaches to get detailed, and that's the part of the game I really love," he said. "Detailing things up, learning a scheme, having a strategy and figuring out the why. Why you did certain things and why does the defense do certain things that makes us in turn do certain things. I love that part of the game; it's something I enjoy studying. That's an asset to be a center in the league because a lot of the centers are thinker-type guys."
Jones is grateful to have someone like Wells around, a center with experience who is very helpful with the younger players.
"Having a guy like Scott here is such a benefit," Jones said. "He's so, so smart football-wise and life-wise. Just learning from him has been great. He has so much wisdom, so I'm constantly trying to get any fact I can because he has so much experience. He's played with people like Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Just hearing the little things from him, the little idiosyncrasies of the game, has really helped improve my game a lot."
It's unlikely that Jones will beat out Wells for the starting job, but he figures to give Barnes a strong fight for the backup spot. And that's a key job, considering Wells, 33, has missed 13 of 32 games in his two seasons in St. Louis. Barnes, a former Mizzou star who was not drafted, started the four games Wells missed last year.
For now, Jones knows there's a lot of work ahead.
"It can be exhausting when you take a step back because there are so many guys here," he said. "It can be stressful competing for a job, but that's the facts of life in the NFL. You have to take it one day at a time, work really hard. That's generally been my motto in life: not to worry about things I can't control, just control what you can control -- and that's coming out here and work hard every day."
Howard Balzer can be heard daily on H & Friends from 9-11 a.m. on FoxSportsRadio 1490.