As a redshirt freshman, Barrett Jones started all 14 games at right guard for Alabama’s 2009 national championship team.
A year ago, he moved to left tackle for 10 games, won the Outland Trophy given to college football’s best interior lineman and won his second national championship ring.
The three-time All-American, who has started 13 games at center this season and captured the Rimington Award (given to the nation’s top center), landed in South Florida with his teammates Wednesday.
The sprained left foot that caused him to miss the Crimson Tide’s first nine bowl practices? “Feels good,” the 6-5, 302-pound Jones said moments after walking down the steps of the team’s chartered flight, which landed at Miami International Airport shortly before 4:30 p.m.
“Ready to roll.”
Those three words have to sound good to Alabama fans.
Jones, who returned to practice Tuesday in Tuscaloosa, has been at the center of Alabama’s 48-4 run the past four years, and having him healthy for Monday night’s BCS championship showdown with No. 1-ranked Notre Dame (12-0) and its stingy defense at Sun Life Stadium will be paramount to the Tide’s success.
Injured in the first half of the SEC title game, Jones spent the past few weeks leading up to Monday’s game rolling through Alabama’s football offices on a scooter and keeping his left foot immobilized. His teammates are thrilled he has not had any setbacks.
“I’m just happy for him to be back," said senior left guard Chance Warmack, a 6-3, 320-pound All-American considered the top offensive guard in the country and expected to be one of the first players taken in April’s NFL Draft. “He’s practicing with us, and he’s doing a really good job right now.”
The Tide, who are staying at the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach, will spend the next few days practicing at Barry University in Miami Shores. Jones’ ankle will be monitored closely.
Led by star linebacker Manti Te’o, Notre Dame led the nation in scoring defense (10.33 ppg), ranked fourth in rushing defense (92.42 ypg) and sixth in total defense (286.83 ypg). Jones said he expects whoever wins the battle in the trenches will win Monday’s game.
“Manti is a great player and an ever better guy. Certainly that will be a big thing for us all night, trying to block that guy,” said Jones, who, according to Alabama’s coaching staff, missed only six blocking assignments in 606 snaps in 2012.
“They’re a very good defense. They’re probably the most fundamentally sound defense I’ve seen on film — very well-coached. They use their hands extremely well and are very technically sound.”
Alabama is hoping to become the first program since Nebraska (1994, 95, 97) to win at least a share of the national title three times in four seasons. Notre Dame has not won a national title since 1988 and has not played in a BCS bowl game since 2007.
Could playing on the country’s biggest stage three of the past four years prove to be an advantage? Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday only if his team plays well “can you say its an advantage.”
“I think what we’re focused on is what we have to do in this particular game,” said Saban, who was asked plenty about his return to South Florida on Wednesday after leaving the Dolphins for Alabama in 2006 after just two seasons.
“Michael Jordan always says it doesn’t make any difference how many game-winning shots he’s hit in the past. The only one that matters is the next one. And that’s really what matters to our guys. I hope we can stay focused on that so that we can play a good game.”
Saban said backup tight end Harrison Jones was the only player who didn’t make the trip with the team because of “medical reasons.”
A previous version of this article misspelled Fontainebleau.