TUSCALOOSA _ Although University of Alabama junior wide receiver Julio Jones isn't sure what lies ahead for him after the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1, he does think the Crimson Tide has a very bright future at his position.
"Greatness," was how he described Alabama's group of young receivers on Monday. "They have all kinds of speed, everything, and they're very coachable. (For) years there will be great receivers here."
With 221 receiving yards at Tennessee and 199 against Auburn, Jones had a very strong finish to the regular season despite coming off surgery to repair a broken hand, and was consequently named the team's most valuable player.
He's also one of numerous juniors whom Coach Nick Saban recently sat down with and their families to discuss the pros and cons of making the early jump into the National Football League.
"It went well," Jones said. "Coach Saban came and talked with them and told me what's there on the table and everything else."
With the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire in March, Saban is advising his players that they should probably stay unless projected to be one of the first 15 selections. ESPN's Mel Kiper has Jones listed ninth overall.
"I'm not even thinking about that," Jones said when asked if he was keeping up with the labor situation. "I'm just trying to help my team win the Capital One Bowl, that's where my priority is to finish up strong."
He also referred to Orlando as a "business trip," as in the Crimson Tide is going there to work, not play.
Although wide receiver has been a recent recruiting priority, only two freshmen had catches this season, with Kevin Norwood making three for 56 yards including a 36-yard touchdown, and Kenny Bell, who redshirted last year, with two for 26 yards.
"I think probably the thing our receivers have to go through when they get here is developing the toughness to play," Saban said. "I'm talking about mental toughness and physical toughness. Things happen bang-bang. You have to be able to block a significant amount of time. Most guys that we recruit we have to change their mindset a little bit about what it takes to be a complete player at their position and all these guys are making progress but that's always the challenge with the young guys."
However, two other players that teammates have been talking up are DeAndrew White and Keiwone Malone, who practice on the scout team and are redshirting.
"There are some guys who are real fast," sophomore safety Robert Lester said. "That's their big advantage against other guys. I'm struggling to keep up with them. They're great athletes."
Dareus named All-American
Junior defensive end Marcell Dareus was named to Pro Football Weekly's All-America team, with Jones, junior running back Mark Ingram and junior safety Mark Barron all honorable-mention selections.
The publications consults with pro football evaluators when selecting the team: "Unlike many other teams rewarding the best college football players, PFW places an extra premium on true talent and draft value in the selection process. Extra attention was paid to qualities such as toughness, competitiveness and work ethic."
Here's the team (* juniors, ** draft-eligible sophomores, *** true sophomores):
Quarterback: Andrew Luck, Stanford**. Honorable mention: Kellen Moore, Boise State*; Cam Newton, Auburn*; Ryan Mallett, Arkansas*; Jake Locker, Washington; Colin Kaepernick, Nevada.
Running back: Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State. Honorable mention: LaMichael James, Oregon**; Andre Ellington, Clemson**; Mark Ingram, Alabama*; Jordan Todman, Connecticut*; Mikel LeShoure, Illinois*.
Fullback: Owen Marecic, Stanford. Honorable mention: Anthony Sherman, Connecticut.
Wide receivers: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State**; A.J. Green, Georgia*. Honorable mention: Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina***; Julio Jones, Alabama*; Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma*; Titus Young, Boise State.
Offensive tackles: Nate Solder, Colorado; Anthony Castonzo, Boston College. Honorable mention: Marcus Cannon, TCU; Danny Watkins, Baylor; Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin; Lee Ziemba, Auburn; Ben Ijalana, Villanova
Offensive guards: Cordy Glenn, Georgia*; Clint Boling, Georgia. Honorable mention: John Moffitt, Wisconsin; Rodney Hudson, Florida State; Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State
Return specialist: Cliff Harris, Oregon***. Honorable mention: Patrick Peterson, LSU*
No command performance
Senior walk-on wide receiver Rob Ezell met with reporters for the first time since ESPN broadcasted his Saban impersonation during "Training Days: Rolling with the Alabama Crimson Tide." He declined to give a repeat performance, but thinks deep down the coach kind of likes it.
"A lot of jokes," Ezell said was the extent of the initial fallout. "Coach Saban would come up and casually remark about how a lot of people were telling him that I needed to be running before and after practice, and (any) old-high school dog drills you've ever heard of such as roll for 100 yards, something like that. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be."
Ezell also disclosed the impersonation's origin, which goes back to a practice a couple of years ago.
"I think we were doing a field-goal (drill) and we missed a few," Ezell continued. "I was standing next to Antoine Caldwell, Nick Walker and John Parker (Wilson). All of a sudden he was yelling and I yelled and Antoine looked at me and was like, 'Say that again. Do that again.' So I did it again and he started laughing and getting guys off the crew, 'Do it one more time.' They were, 'You sound just like him.'
"I didn't think anything of it. Next thing you know I had to do it just about every day for a couple of weeks."
Ezell admitted to occasionally having a little fun in the locker room and doing the voice when teammates aren't expecting it, but is otherwise being careful despite having one final game remaining. The receiver who wanted to be the kind of team player that Paul W. "Bear" Bryant would have had on his roster hopes to keep working in football.
"There isn't a guy in this building who doesn't like Rob Ezell," junior center William Vlachos said. "He's a great teammate and cares about the team as much as anybody. He's a starter or not, or on scholarship or not, that doesn't matter with him. He loves the game of football and I think he'll do something with football the rest of his life."
Jones hasn't had any pain in his surgically-repaired hand since just before the Auburn game.
"It's great, one hundred percent," he said. "No pain at all."
Barron, freshman linebacker Jonathan Atchison (bicep) and sophomore cornerback B.J. Scott (ankle) continued to ride exercise bikes during practice and have all been ruled out for the Capital One Bowl.
Freshman linebacker Adrian Hubbard is still out with back spasms. Vlachos is feeling better after missing a couple of days with the flu.
"I lost a little bit of weight, but I'm hoping to put that back on," he said. "I've been feeling really good, today especially."
Alabama practiced in full pads Monday. Saban's press conference after Tuesday's workout will be the last media opportunity until Sunday morning in Orlando.
One of the season highlights for sophomore kicker Jeremy Shelley was to kick at Duke after growing up in Raleigh, N.C. "It was a lot of fun," he said. "I had a lot of family and friends there from the area and it was nice to go out and have my high schools coaches there, it was their first chance to see me. It's kind of neat with all the familiar aspects in the area."
Shelley also commented on the wind at Bryant-Denny after the south end zone expansion was completed: "It really seems like the wind is a little bit duller since last year when they closed off that end. You don't have the spiral coming through. As far as patterns go, it's pretty much the same direction."
Vlachos on Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones: "He's just a playmaker. He doesn't have crazy hair or crazy measurables or anything. He makes tackles. He gets to the ball as good as anyone I've ever seen."