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Saturday, November 8, 2008
Freshman or no freshman, Julio can play

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban didn't want to waste any time.

He told offensive coordinator Jim McElwain and quarterback John Parker Wilson that he wanted to take a shot on the Crimson Tide's first play in overtime.

 
  Chris Graythen/Getty Images
  Alabama freshman wide receiver Julio Jones is 'the best (athlete) I've ever seen' according to Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson.

It's no coincidence that first shot went to freshman receiver Julio Jones, whose catch down on the goal line was the kind of play Alabama fans salivated about when he signed with the Crimson Tide back in February.

"He's a special guy. He works so hard. He's a tremendous athlete, the best I've ever seen," Wilson said. "The way he carries himself and makes plays and doesn't let anything affect him ... he's really good and going to be really good for a long time."

Jones' body control on his 24-yard catch to set up Wilson's game-winning touchdown plunge in overtime was amazing enough. He came out of his route, went high in the air and made a tough adjustment on the ball look routine in Alabama's 27-21 win over LSU.

It's the kind of play Alabama players have become accustomed to seeing from the 6-4, 210-pound Jones.

"He's been doing that since the first day he got here," Alabama senior center Antoine Caldwell said. "If the ball's thrown around him, he's going to go get it."

Here's the other thing about Jones: He's a bull after the catch. He's so strong and rarely goes down with the first hit.

He also uses his size to his advantage when smaller cornerbacks try to match up one-on-one against him.

Jones finished with seven catches for a season-high 128 yards, the second time in his last three games that he's had more than 100 yards receiving. In those three games, Jones has a total of 18 catches for 293 yards.

He's such a dynamic presence on the perimeter that he makes teams that want to stack the line pay to stop Alabama's bruising running game. The only player who's really come close to successfully covering Jones one-on-one this season has been Kentucky's Trevard Lindley.

For all the hype Jones generated during the recruiting process last year, it's obvious that he's the real deal. And when it counted, he was the best (and most talented) player on the field Saturday.

But is he the best freshman receiver in the SEC?

Georgia's A.J. Green has better numbers, but something tells me that Alabama wouldn't trade Jones for anybody right now.

"There's a reason we called his number," Caldwell said.