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January 3, 2013

Final exams await Tide center

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Kapron Lewis-Moore has watched enough film of Alabama to see Barrett Jones start at three positions.

That's been enough to get the Notre Dame defensive end's attention, even before breaking down the skill set that's turned Jones into college football's best tackle last year and its best center this season. Jones started 25 games at right guard as a freshman and sophomore, moved to left tackle as a junior and moved to center as a senior.

"To have a linemen to play all three positions like that, that's something special in itself," Lewis-Moore said. "You can tell he's very smart. He knows the game. To have a guy play from tackle to center, that's unheard of."

Jones will face two final exams on Jan. 7, working against an Irish defense that's allowed just two rushing touchdowns all season and testing his left foot, injured in the SEC Championship Game. A walking boot and rehab shelved the All-American until practices this week.

"I've been able to practice now for a few practices and that shouldn't be an issue," Jones said. "The first day I was certainly a little rusty. The second day I was a little less rusty and hopefully today I'll be feeling good. It certainly helps that I've started 49 games. That's an advantage. I'm not worried about that at all."

Alabama and Notre Dame both open on-site practices Thursday afternoon.

The Jones rehab plan over the last month focused on swimming and running on an Alter-G treadmill, designed to allow an athlete to train cardiovascularly without putting full weight on the legs.

"Our trainers did a great job," Jones said. "First of all, I did a lot of swimming, which was pretty cool. Something that's really hard. You guys ever swim before? It's exhausting.

"The (Alter-G) treadmill, it's a treadmill that kind of allows you to run on just part of your body weight … you've gotta look it up. it's hard to explain."

If Jones' left foot isn't the biggest challenge facing the center Monday night, it figures to be nose guard Louis Nix. The junior has helped anchor the Irish rush defense all season, recently turned down a chance to declare for the NFL draft and has helped Notre Dame make goal line stands against Stanford and USC.

Jones compared Nix to nose guard John Jenkins from Georgia, a potential first-round pick, despite the fact Alabama rushed for 350 yards in the SEC Championship game.

"First of all he's pretty big," Jones said. "He's got good size to him, but he's got really good foot quickness to him for how large he is. He uses his hands really well. He's a very good player, probably the best nose guard I've played against all year."


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