ORLANDO, Fla. — Julio Jones could solidify himself as one of Alabama’s historic icons should he return for one more season.
The 6-foot-4, 222-pound junior is considering the lure of the NFL, along with several other Crimson Tide teammates.
While Jones attempts to map out his future, he seems to understand the unique opportunity the 2011 season could offer.
The NFL could offer him fame and wealth.
Alabama can offer him a place in history.
“(I could maybe) win the Heisman or go up in the (NFL) draft,” Jones said of the incentives of a return. “Possibly win another national championship.”
Lofty goals? Consider the voice of Alabama coach Nick Saban, which echoed Jones and offered even stronger incentives for a return to Tuscaloosa.
“I think he would be the No. 1 receiver in the country next year,” Saban said. “He probably would be a guy, who would have a chance to make a lot of national honors in terms of whether it’s winning an award like the Biletnikoff (Award) or maybe even being in the Heisman Trophy hunt.”
The shine of Alabama’s offensive engine was hyped prior to the season as potentially one of the best in college football history. Of course, there were plenty of knocks and pings en route to a 9-3 finish. Tide fans already can envision an offense with three Heisman Trophy candidates including running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
One potential hiccup could be a change at quarterback. Alabama is poised for a true spring battle between AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims to replace senior Greg McElroy, who has started every game the past two seasons.
Jones has hooked up with McCarron on some plays and sounds receptive to the idea of playing with another quarterback.
“Julio has made a tremendous amount of improvement since he’s been at Alabama,” Saban said. “I think no doubt that the last five or six games of the year you sort of saw him develop to a different level in terms of a player. It’s hard for me to know exactly how NFL teams would evaluate what he needs to do to get better. I know what I think. The faster he plays the better he plays. The more consistently he catches the ball the better.”
Jones also has shown he can overcome a lot of things, including pain.
In what is sure to grow into a tall tale over time, Jones returned to practice the day he had surgery to insert a plate and screws into his broken left hand. The injury occurred during a 35-21 loss at South Carolina on Oct. 9.
Less than two weeks later, Jones enjoyed a career game inside one of the cathedrals of college football. Jones shined beneath Neyland Stadium’s lights for 12 catches, 221 yards — both career highs — in a 41-10 win