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A position-by-position look at prospects in this year’s NFL Draft. This entry: Centers.





INDIANAPOLIS –Barrett Jones was not allowed to play football until he reached the sixth grade.  What was a kid to do?

Well, Jones started playing the violin at age three, practicing daily.  By age five and in a Christian ministry, he played for hours at nursing homes. 

In school, he was so inquisitive on all subjects that his third-grade teacher told his parents she might need an assistant who could devote time to Jones' questions.  In a national scrabble contest, his vocabulary was so voluminous that he finished 15 th

in his age group.

Trent Richardson put it well in 2011 about Jones, saying, "He's a good nerd to be around.  Barrett is probably the most valuable player on the team.  That's one person I love to run behind."

Jones' versatility on the line had to please Nick Saban, too.  Jones played in every role along the line.  He started 25 games at right guard from 2009-10, 11 games at left tackle in 2011 and 13 games at center this past season.

Against Kent State as a junior, the four-time Academic All-American worked his way from left tackle to guard to center.  He ended the year as Alabama's third Outland winner.

Jones won the Rimington Award this past year as the nation's top center, and he was an important cog in the Crimson Tide winning another national title.

"I've been very blessed to play on some awesome teams, had a really great career.  Obviously, that means nothing here," said Jones at the combine.  "I'm just trying to go to the next chapter."

Jones, 6-5, 306, was overcoming a lis franc injury and anticipated no recovery problems.  He is like other linemen who know the value of being ready for more than one position.

"When you play a lot of positions, it allows you to learn the offense from different perspectives," said Jones.  "You stop memorizing the offense and start understanding it.  That's the biggest reason playing center mentally wasn't that big a challenge.  I understood the offense and what we were trying to accomplish.

"I hope I have a lot of game film, maybe not at center, but at different positions.  I feel like I'm intelligent.  I know how to study the game well, make very few mental errors.  That's what separates me apart.  I've heard different things (from teams on where he will play.  Most of them have probably been center.  I'll play wherever."

Even for a player of Jones' caliber, the position switches were a challenge, particularly the one guarding the quarterback from the most harm.

"They were all tough, but I'd say probably left tackle," said Jones.  "That's just a tough position, especially in the SEC.  You're going against elite pass-rushers.  It's a tough position to pick up in a few months, but I did all right.

"I felt most comfortable where I played least.  If you asked me last year, I would have been most comfortable at left tackle.  Right now, I'm definitely most comfortable at center.  I really like center because I enjoy the mental part of it.  It's the most mentally challenging offensive line position.  Just to be honest, I'm kind of a control freak.  I like that aspect, to be in control and kind of point out to other people their assignments."

Jones put as much of an emphasis on the classroom as he did on the field.  His faith-based work was a priority, too.

"I think it's very important to be balanced, and in college that's something I put a big emphasis on, especially academics," said Jones.  "My faith is something that's very important to me.  That's a big reason I did a lot of this community service.  I've been on several mission trips to different countries (Honduras, Haiti and Nicaragua)."

Jones grew up in the Memphis area and was a Colts fan because of Peyton Manning.  Asked what center influence he had, Jones tabbed Jeff Saturday. 

Those two prominent Colts had a famous on-field shouting match in 2005 that quickly blew over.  Jones and A.J. McCarron had one such moment in last year's national title game.

"Push-gate as they call it; the push heard 'round the world," laughed Jones.  "I don't know if that's what shows it.  I'm not saying I'm not a strong-headed guy.  I think that really came down to two guys who were still competing at the end of the game, and had a very minor disagreement.  It was not a big deal at all.  Two seconds later we were hugging on the sideline."

For all the awards he got during a great career, being recognized by his colleagues counted the most.

"The thing I'm most proud of is being named team captain," said Jones.  "The awards that come from your teammates, that means the most.  That means they voted on it, you earned their respect.  I'm not saying I'm not grateful for all the awards I received.  I'm just saying it's special to get awards from your teammates."


* *


The last six centers drafted by the Colts:

2008:  Steve Justice, sixth round, Wake Forest

2005:  Rob Hunt, fifth round, North Dakota State

2005:  Dylan Gandy, fourth round, Texas Tech

1991:  Rob Luedeke, twelfth round, Penn State

1986:  Pete Anderson, tenth round, Georgia

1986:  Gary Walker, fifth round, Boston University


An alphabetical list of centers expected to be selected in the 2013 NFL Draft (*-denotes underclassman):

Braxston Cave, Notre Dame

Travis Frederick, Wisconsin*

Dalton Freeman, Clemson

Khaled Holmes, Southern Cal

Brian Schwenke, California

Barrett Jones, Alabama

Note:  The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.

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