Healthier Julio ready to take off in 2009

Posted by ESPN..com's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama fans can't wait to see a healthy Julio Jones this season.

Neither can Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy.

"We all knew he was banged up at the end of last season," McElroy said. "The first couple of games, we saw the Julio that is freakish. The one that breaks a tackle, stiff-arms a guy and there he goes."

Jones suffered a sports hernia in the Georgia game, cracked his left wrist in the Tennessee game and aggravated an injury to his left shoulder against the Vols that he hurt that week in practice.

"My teammates weren't going to quit on me, so why would I quit on them?" said Jones, conceding that he wasn't close to 100 percent toward the end of the season.

And for that matter, he wasn't 100 percent to start the season, either.

Jones said he came into the season nagged by a painful turf toe injury that limited him. He's had a special shoe made for him by Nike and hasn't had any more problems.

The hernia, wrist and shoulder injuries have also cleared up, which is bad news for the rest of the SEC.

"I'm way healthier than I was last year to start the season and in better shape," said Jones, who led Alabama with 58 catches for 924 yards and four touchdowns. "I wasn't able to do as much in the offseason last year as everybody else because my toe was hurting so much."

Jones' overall grasp of the offense should also make him more dangerous. He stayed in one spot for much of last season, but knows all three receiver positions now.

The Crimson Tide plan to move him around a lot more than a year ago, making it harder for opponents to double-team him.

What separates the 6-foot-4, 211-pound Jones is his penchant for never going down on the first hit. He was a running back in Foley, Ala., until he got to high school and takes that same running back mentality to heart.

His favorite player growing up?

Barry Sanders.

"Playing running back until the ninth grade gave me field vision, and you have to go through three levels when you're playing running back -- the d-line, linebackers and secondary," Jones said. "Now it's just one line of defense out there. If I break that, it's a touchdown.

"Those guys [cornerbacks] are smaller, too, than linebackers. They shouldn't be able to tackle me."

Jones isn't a big talker, even though the way he competes on the field might suggest otherwise.

"That's just me," he said. "I talk, but I don't talk like that. I'm quiet and like to listen and learn. Even on the field, I don't say nothing."

He's also not big on making comparisons between himself and some of the other great receivers around the country. Jones said he never really watched college football as a kid and didn't spend much time last season watching other receivers.

His teammates say he's in a class by himself.

"Julio's a freak, one in a million," said Alabama sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower, shaking his head with admiration. "When he catches the ball, he turns up the field so fast. If you weren't in that lane, you were either run over or you would miss him.

"He's one of the best practice players on the team. He's not a vocal leader. But if you see him work, you're like, 'Wow.'"

And who knows? There could be a little politics in Jones' future.

He's already got the name recognition. Just mention "Julio," and everybody across the state of Alabama knows who you're talking about. There's no need to mention a last name.

On campus, he's such a hit that enough students wrote his name on the ballot during student elections earlier this year that he won a seat in the Student Senate.

Jones accepted, too, and plans to work in the Thursday meetings this fall around football practice.

"I didn't sign up for it," said the senator. "But I told them I'd do it if they really wanted me."

Just don't look for any filibusters.