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March 30, 2010

Transfer Jones is looking to make his own mark

TUSCALOOSA _ The silver ring sits prominently in a case in his room. It features the Bowl Championship Series logo, team nickname, team helmet and season record along the sides. On top are the words "National Champions" along with the year, a large numeral "1" set with three cubic zirconia, and an amethyst stone shaped like a purple football.

Yes, purple. The ring belongs to University of Alabama defensive back Phelon Jones, from his redshirt season of 2007 at LSU.

"They don't really give me grief," he said about Crimson Tide fans who check out the display. "I have people come and see the ring I have now and try and see what the Alabama ring is going to look like."

It's not very often someone wins two national crowns at different schools without playing a single down, but Jones did so within three years. Actually, he's never heard of anyone else doing it.

Jones was initially a four-star prospect out of McGill Toolen High School in Mobile, where as a wide receiver, cornerback and kick returner tallied 96 tackles and two interceptions along with 1,085 all-purpose yards to be named the 2006 Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year. Rivals.com rated him the sixth-best prospect in the state and No. 10 among those rated as just "athletes" due to the number of positions he could play -- and with Jones it seemed especially fitting.

Additionally, he was a top-notch triple and long jumper in track and also came from an established football family. His father Anthony was the defensive backs coach at McGill-Toolen, both brothers played the game, Tiger in the Arena League and Carvel at Troy, and cousin Robert McCune was a Louisville linebacker who has had NFL stints with Washington, Baltimore, Miami and last season Cleveland.

Saban had just arrived at Alabama in January 2007, but Jones was already set to head to Baton Rouge along with teammate Sidell Corley and join his friend Chevis Jackson, who had been a standout wide receiver, defensive back and return specialist at St. Paul's Episcopal School.

"Everyone was on the same page pushing me," Jones said.

Following the 12-2 title season, Jones worked his way into the rotation and played in nine games with starts as the dime back against North Texas and Troy. He recorded six tackles against both. Yet after the disappointing 8-5 season, when the Tigers ranked 56th in scoring defense, 67th in turnover margin and 73rd in pass defense, Les Miles decided it was time to go in a different direction and hired former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis.

"I guess they just didn't see me in the new game plan," Jones said. "They had moved me down (the depth chart), so I decided to make a move, do what's best for me and my family.

"It was kind of tough. It took most of the spring over at LSU, but I really did like LSU. I mean, there's no hard feelings against any of them over there. It's just this was a better move for me."

Jones said he was considered a third-string player when he asked for his release: "They just kept trying to tell me something different every time." It was granted despite involving a rival school because Miles said he had done everything requested.

The friendships no longer a factor, the choices were quickly narrowed down to two.

"I looked at Auburn," Jones said. "When I first came out, I really didn't see myself fitting in at Auburn. I liked Alabama more, especially Coach Saban. I like Coach Saban. I figured if anybody is going to make me better, it's Coach Saban. So I kind of held off on Auburn and wanted to come to Alabama."

Back to the scout team to wait out his transfer year, Jones was again on the sideline when his team won both the Southeastern Conference and national championships, this time on a perfect 14-0 squad.

Now, finally, Jones is getting his chance, and even though the Tide lost seven defensive backs the competition is stiff. While Dre Kirkpatrick and B.J. Scott have been working on the first unit, and true freshman DeMarcus Milliner and John Fulton have been paired on the third unit to get more reps, Jones has sort of been sandwiched between while also getting work at star (nickel back).

"Phelon is learning things for the first time," Saban said.

But he already has the one ring and will soon have another.

"Hopefully I'll get new case," he said.


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