Thursday, November 3, 2011
Tide's Jones, Vlachos always a step ahead
By Chris Low
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- For two guys who are polar opposites in a lot of ways, Barrett Jones and William Vlachos are the ultimate combination on Alabama’s offensive line.
The truth is that they’re great friends, even though they both revel in getting under the other’s skin.
They room together on the road, quarrel over who gets to control the television remote and make fun of the other’s interests.
When Jones is away from football, he’s liable to be playing the violin or lining up his next mission trip.
When Vlachos is away from football, he’s probably going to be in camouflage and sitting in a deer stand.
When they’re both on the field -- Jones at left tackle and Vlachos at center -- they’re one of the premier offensive line duos in all of college football.
“You’re talking about two guys who are great people, extremely intelligent and are going to be very, very successful in life at whatever they choose to do,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “They love playing football and are football junkies. They like to prepare and probably understand what they’re supposed to do as well as the coaches.
Barrett Jones, center, has paved the way for several touchown runs by Trent Richardson this season.
“Their communication and ability to make calls really helps the other players tremendously. You have to have a combination of those kind of guys, especially in the offensive line where playing intelligently is very, very important to being successful.”
As Saban notes, it’s one thing to be able to physically block a guy. What’s more important is knowing who to block on every play.
“If you don’t block the right guy, it doesn’t do you much good,” Saban said. “Those two guys help us block the right guys. We can’t always block them, but they help us block the right guys, and that helps our consistency.
“Those guys have been staples for two or three years now, and I think our offensive line has always sort of overachieved a little bit … probably because of them.”
Alabama running back Trent Richardson, who’s run through more than a few holes created by Vlachos and Jones, is continually amazed at how quickly they adjust to what defenses are doing and how well they work together on the field.
“Vlachos is almost like a quarterback on that offensive line,” said Richardson, who leads the SEC in rushing. “I’m looking at him in the backfield and listening to him make all these calls, and I’m like, ‘How are you seeing all this stuff that quick?’
“He and Barrett talk to each other on the line and are making decisions together. My head is almost spinning, and they’re making calls. I’m trying to read off them and see what they see.
“They’re three times ahead of everybody else.”
That’s not by coincidence.
The only thing they like better than watching film is cracking on each other.
And the film room is their haven for some of their best barbs.
“We’re the only players in the SEC who know every defensive lineman by his first name,” said Jones, a fourth-year junior who’s made 33 career starts.
Vlachos goes one better.
“Over the last three years, we can tell you the first and last names and number of everybody we’ve played against and what they were like and a certain play that stands out,” Vlachos said. “That’s what happens when you play as long as we have together.”
Vlachos, a fifth-year senior who’s made 35 consecutive starts, admits that his first impression of Jones wasn’t a good one.
“William thought I was weird,” said Jones, who gets no argument from Vlachos.
“I wasn’t a huge fan,” Vlachos acknowledged. “He probably wasn’t a huge fan, either, but the rest is history. I love his humor now.”
There’s never a dull moment when they’re together. It’s like Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble reincarnated.
Jones jokes that Vlachos hasn’t seen the inside of a classroom in three years.
“William is strictly on an online class diet,” quipped Jones, who earned his undergraduate degree in accounting in August with a 4.0 GPA.
Vlachos is quick to shoot back.
“I graduated in three and a half years [in consumer economics], but now I’m an online guy,” Vlachos said.
Jones said Vlachos hates sports other than playing football.
Center William Vlachos has been a mainstay on Alabama's line the past few seasons.
“He likes playing football” Jones said. “But if there’s a game on, and it’s not somebody we’re going to be playing, he doesn’t want to watch it.
Vlachos interjected that he watches golf on television. He just doesn’t play it.
Jones said there’s no way he’s going to take Vlachos to play golf, either.
“I don’t want to get kicked off the course. He doesn’t have the patience for golf,” Jones said.
They could go on for days about who’s the better athlete. Jones is 6-foot-5 and 311 pounds. Vlachos is listed at 6-1 (don’t dare debate him about it) and just under 300 pounds.
“Who runs the fastest 40?” asks Vlachos, wearing a proud smile and looking directly at Jones.
“I’m just more athletic overall.”
Jones isn’t about to buy that and quickly claims to have the better footwork.
“That’s definitely me,” Jones said.
And the smarter player?
“You’re not going to give that to me?” says Jones, staring blankly at Vlachos.
Finally, Vlachos gives in. Well, sort of.
“It’s a tie,” Vlachos said. “You’re a smarter person than me, but we have equal football instincts.”
Even though they room together on the road and at the hotel the nights before home games, they have their own places in Tuscaloosa.
“We need to keep our space. He’s too messy,” Jones said.
Sure enough, during their live appearance with ESPN on Wednesday during the All Access special, Jones was wearing long pants with his shirt tucked in. Vlachos was rocking shorts with his shirt untucked.
“But my hair was brushed,” Vlachos pleaded.
They did once go on a double date together.
“Went to the Iguana Grill,” Vlachos said. “I don’t remember much about it other than it was the only one.”
Jones said Vlachos thinks he’s a running back or fullback at heart, and Richardson says that Vlachos has been known to try to race him off the practice field.
“It’s like that 80-yard screen play Trent had against Ole Miss where William is just sprinting down the field to be sprinting down the field,” Jones said.
Counters Vlachos, “Nope, [Chance] Warmack blocked the wrong guy, and I started running. For 40 yards, we were step for step. Now, I had a little bit of steam going, and Trent had to stop and go again.
“You can pull it up on the film.”
It’s always a riot when Jones and Vlachos get going, and by the time they’re finished, everybody’s rolling in laughter.
Neither was laughing, though, when the decision was made in the preseason to move Jones from right guard to left tackle. Jones had played alongside Vlachos at right guard for two seasons.
They had the kind of chemistry working between them on the field that one could nod and the other would know exactly what to do.
“I was very against it at first,” Vlachos said. “But I think he’s done an incredible job at left tackle. It’s just that we were so good at getting to know the other personnel together. Now, he’s always watching ends, and I’m still watching tackles.”
Jones, a first-team All-SEC selection at right guard last season, has played every position on the Alabama line this season but right guard, including some at center.
Moving away from each other isn’t the only adjustment Jones and Vlachos had to make this season. Veteran offensive line coach Joe Pendry retired following last season and was replaced by Jeff Stoutland.
“Barrett and I had played for Coach Pendry for so long,” Vlachos said. “He was instrumental in our development, and he was kind of like a father to both of us. While we both miss Coach Pendry, Coach Stoutland has been great.
“Their styles might be different, but their philosophies are the same. They expect you to give everything you’ve got every play and know exactly what you’re doing all the time.”
Never a problem for these two, who agree that Saturday’s challenge against this LSU defense will be one for the ages.
“Our coaches do a great job of putting us in the right spots,” Vlachos said. “But I also think that when our offensive line plays well, at least since Barrett and me have been here, our offense plays well. I believe everything revolves around a strong performance from the offensive line and being able to run the football.
“I’m not saying this because of all the hype. But when we step in between those lines on Saturday night, it’s going to be the best defense we’ve played against in our careers -- and it’s on us to be at our best.”