TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Trent Richardson says Barrett Jones is the "nerd" on Alabama's offensive line, the studious guy who sits up front in class and raises his hand a lot.
Jones has used those brains to help him become the third-ranked
Crimson Tide's all-purpose blocker. He has played four positions on
the line in the first three games -- everywhere but right guard, where he started 25 games the past two seasons and was a preseason
first-team All-Southeastern Conference pick.
"He's a smart guy. He's got a 4.0" GPA, said Richardson, Alabama's tailback and also a self-described nerd. "He's a big nerd. He knows what to do. That (helps) him a lot with just being smart in the game and being ahead of everybody."
Going into Alabama's game Saturday with No. 14 Arkansas, Jones
has been both a starter at left tackle and a fill-in at center and left guard, moving to right tackle for the first time against North Texas last weekend.
"It was the last one I hadn't played yet in a game," Jones said. "I've been able to experience the game from all five different viewpoints."
Alabama returned four starters on the line who now have a combined 91 starts but had to replace NFL first-round pick James Carpenter at left tackle. The death of junior college transfer and potential starter Aaron Douglas in May left not only an emotional void but a hole on the line.
Tide coaches are grooming freshman Cyrus Kouandjio, a top 5-rated recruit nationally, to protect the quarterback's blind side. Coach Nick Saban said Kouandjio played 40-plus snaps against North Texas and has gotten significantly better since the opener.
"I don't think there's a lot of doubt that he is athletic and is going to be a very, very good player at that position," Saban said. "We just want to continue to enhance his development so that he feels comfortable and confident in knowing what he is supposed to do so he can play without apprehension and be sure about what he is supposed to do.
"Because the closer you play to the ball, the faster stuff happens. So if you're a little bit, `I'm not sure whether I should step this way and block this guy or I should block that guy,' you got no chance. It doesn't make any difference how athletic you are."
In the meantime, Jones gets to show NFL scouts his versatility, which he said has been fun but also made preparation a little more
challenging. The junior Academic All-American is listed on Alabama's depth chart as a co-starter with Kouandjio at left tackle and with his neighbor on the line, Chance Warmack.
He has also emerged as the backup to center William Vlachos despite only previously playing that position in a high school all-star game. He had to move over when Vlachos was shaken up against North Texas.
"I went over there and was, `Come on William, you're fine,"' Jones joked.
Richardson said he likes having Jones as a lead blocker, wherever the 6-foot-5, 311-pounder lined up.
"It just benefits me when he's out there," said the tailback, who has run for eight touchdowns. "I just like to run the same side he's on. Most of the time I tell coaches to run it to Barrett's side. Most of the time that's where I'm trying to run to."
And Richardson doesn't mind if Jones is "a nerd." In fact, his eyes lit up when a reporter told him that the lineman plays the violin, giving him something else to tease his cerebral blocker about.
"The team needs a couple nerds," Richardson said. "Especially the game we're playing. It's a more mental game than anything. I have to say I'm one of them because I have a high GPA, trying to get the academic All-American stuff. A lot of people when they see me in the classroom I'm sitting up front, a lot of people say I am a nerd because I don't talk in class. I'm just quiet to myself trying to get my work done.
"But I'm not near as (much a) nerd as Barrett."