- Alex Scarborough, SEC reporter
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Christion Jones has always had the speed to compete in the SEC. The lightning quick Alabama receiver made his mark as a freshman last season backing up Marquis Maze in the return game.
There, Jones flashed the tools that made him a four-star prospect coming out of high school two years ago in Adamsville, Ala.,: light feet, fluid hips and superb closing speed.
With a year under his belt, Jones is ready to put those tools to use. There are plenty of speedsters at Alabama, but the 5-foot-11 sophomore wants to be known for more than that. He wants to be an all-around, impact receiver.
After Maze departed for the NFL, Jones became the starting return man and the starting slot receiver on offense. After a so-so performance against Michigan to start the season, failing to catch a pass, Jones came out with a bang Saturday against Western Kentucky. In front of the home crowd, he caught three passes for 47 yards and two touchdowns.
"It's kind of different picking up a bigger role than I had last year," Jones said after the game. "But it's all part of the game. When you lose people, you have to step up and know your chance is coming and you have the opportunity to do something special with a team."
In each of his three catches against WKU, Jones showed what makes him a threat every time he's on the field. On Alabama's first drive, he sprinted past the linebacker covering him, split the safeties and nabbed the 14-yard pass from AJ McCarron. In the following quarter, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier saw a hole in the coverage again. Jones attacked, burning three WKU defenders for a 22-yard reception in the corner of the end zone. To top off the game, Jones took a bubble screen, shifted around several defenders and got down in time for a first down.
"He's made nice progress, especially as a receiver," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. " ... He made a really nice catch for a touchdown today. As he develops confidence, he's got really good speed and quickness and can really come out of a break and accelerate.
"I just think he needs to develop confidence as a receiver by continuing to play and make plays. Hopefully each game is going to help him improve."
Jones said part of building confidence involves developing a relationship with his quarterback. He and McCarron spent time this summer working on timing and creating a rapport. Against WKU, there wasn't a lot of waving for the football when Jones was open; McCarron had the ball right on him without a second thought.
"AJ is getting better," Jones said. "It's the practice Monday to Friday getting our timing together. It shows up in the game."
While it appears McCarron and Jones have developed a bond on the football field, it doesn't mean the quarterback has found his No. 1 target. McCarron completed 15 passes to seven receivers Saturday.
"There are no favorites," Jones said. "We're all working hard to try and help the team whether it's blocking or running routes."
Playing fast is something with which Jones is familiar. Where his improvement shows is in the rest of his game. Against Michigan, Jones threw a block that knocked a Wolverines defender on the turf, prompting fellow receiver Kevin Norwood to say, "He's a little small guy and to put on that amount of weight and knock out that linebacker, it was very nice."
Like the rest of the hungry Crimson Tide, Jones isn't pleased with the early success. The knockdowns and touchdown receptions are nice, but even a little bit of taking the foot off the gas is unacceptable for Alabama's swift wideout.
"We have to keep executing and coming out Monday ready to play," Jones said. "We can't start off fast and come out and start to be lackadaisical like we did."
No longer in the shadow of a veteran ahead of him, Bama receiver and return man Christion Jones is making inroads to being AJ McCarron's target of choice.