Barrett Jones prepares for another change

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- In his first season as Alabama’s starting right guard in 2009, Barrett Jones helped the Crimson Tide finish 14-0 and win a BCS national championship.

After moving to left tackle last season, Jones was named an All-American and won the Outland Trophy as college football’s top lineman. He also helped the Crimson Tide win their second BCS national title in three seasons, defeating LSU 21-0 in the Jan. 9 BCS National Championship Game.

Now Jones, a senior from Germantown, Tenn., is moving to center, where he’ll replace the departed William Vlachos, a three-year starter, who was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy as the country’s top center last season.

“I think you’ve got to think about how can we make our team the best,” Jones said. “Our philosophy around here has always been to play the best five. I think in order to do that this year, I’m going to have to play center. That’s fine with me.”

The Crimson Tide will bring back four of five starters on the offensive line in 2012. With Jones moving to center, highly regarded sophomore Cyrus Kouandjio takes over at left tackle, where he’ll protect quarterback AJ McCarron’s blind side. Kouandjio, from Hyattsville, Md., suffered a torn ACL in his knee eight games into his freshman season in 2011.

Each of Alabama’s projected five starting offensive linemen weighs more than 300 pounds. McCarron bought them dinner before two scrimmages this spring, dropping about $200 at a wings restaurant and about $300 at a Japanese steak house.

“I’ll take them out as long as they protect me, but good Lord,” McCarron said.

Even though Jones is Alabama’s most decorated tackle, he was the most logical candidate to change positions. Guards Anthony Steen and Chance Warmack are back, along with right tackle D.J. Fluker.

“This is really my first year to have the reigns,” Jones said. “It’s a really big adjustment. Not being off the ball is probably the biggest adjustment for you. The guy is just right there, probably not 2 inches from your hands, especially when you’re playing our 3-4 [defense]. It’s a big adjustment, but it’s gone well and I think I’m progressing well. Hopefully, I’ll have a big year.”

McCarron said the transition hasn’t been perfect during spring practice, but Jones is growing into his new position.

“I ride Barrett harder than anybody,” McCarron said. “He’s learning. He’s never done it before. He gets mad sometimes if things aren’t perfect, but there are going to be some speed bumps along the way. He’s gotten a lot better since we started. Knowing him, he’s going to continue to get better. I’m not worried about him at all.”

Jones, 6-foot-5 and 311 pounds, has never played center before. Playing three different positions in college only figures to help his stock in the NFL draft.

“I think as far as the next level, it will only help me in terms of versatility and being able to play multiple positions,” Jones said. “You think about what’s best for the team and not just for one player.”