Alabama’s Mac Jones sustains ankle injury at Senior Bowl

Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports
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MOBILE, Ala. — Mac Jones‘ last game was for a national championship. The next game he plays is for his NFL draft stock, provided the Alabama quarterback’s gimpy left ankle is good to go.

Jones headlines a group of quarterbacks from high-profile programs at Saturday’s Senior Bowl, 19 days after the Crimson Tide beat Ohio State in the title game.

The Heisman Trophy finalist sat out the end of Thursday’s final practice of the week after hurting his ankle, leaving his status for the game uncertain. Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said the plan is for Jones to dress out and see how his ankle feels.

“The goal is for him to play,” Nagy said in a text message Friday. “He’s a true competitor.”

Jones is also the biggest name – especially in this state – and almost certainly the top quarterback prospect at the game.

Jones wasn’t regretting coming to the game and working with Matt Rhule and the Carolina Panthers staff even with minimal time to recuperate from the season.

“Just being in that room, I already learned so much about NFL football,” he said. “They made me better this week.

“I’ve really enjoyed it and I’m super happy I came.”

If healthy Jones, considered a potential first-round pick, would lead the American team along with two other passers with Southeastern Conference connections. He’s joined by Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond and former Wake Forest standout Jamie Newman, who transferred to Georgia before ultimately opting out because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National team is led by Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, Notre Dame’s Ian Book and Feleipe Franks, who transferred from Florida to Arkansas for his final season.

Heisman finalist Kyle Trask, Franks’ replacement at Florida, was scheduled to play but pulled out because of an ankle injury.

Jones is vying with the other top quarterbacks for draft positioning behind Clemson’s presumed No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence. That group includes Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Trask, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and BYU’s Zach Wilson.

In Jones’ one full season as starter he made the most of his opportunity. Mond started 44 games for the Aggies, Ehlinger logged 43 starts for the Longhorns,

Mond led the Aggies into College Football Playoffs contention in his final season. After throwing 24 interceptions his first three seasons, Mond was only intercepted three times in 10 games.

“I think in a lot of people’s opinion, the SEC is the closest thing to NFL calibre players,” he said. “Obviously being able to compete at that level is definitely a huge blessing for me.”

Book was a finalist for the Manning Award and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, both won by Jones. He knows the lack of a combine and in-person visits “just makes every little thing more important,” certainly including the Senior Bowl.

“This is more important, the pro day is more important, and it’s about taking every rep one at a time and going out and competing,” Book said after a practice this week. “I had a really good time today competing with the best of the best. That’s why you play football.”

Other top prospects include Wake Forest defensive tackle Carlos Basham Jr. and wide receiver Sage Surratt, along with his brother and North Carolina linebacker Chazz Surratt. Plus, Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, Florida receiver Kadarius Toney, UCF safety Richie Grant and Miami edge rusher Quincy Roche.

That group of intriguing prospects also includes small college offensive linemen – Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Quinn Meinerz, North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz and Northern Iowa’s Spencer Brown.

Alabama tailback Najee Harris practiced early in the week but won’t play in the game because of a lingering ankle injury from the title game.

Jones is hoping to be able to play after setting Alabama records with 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns this season. He succeeded the much more heralded Tua Tagovailoa, who wound up going fifth to the Miami Dolphins in the last draft.

“I don’t think I needed to prove anything,” Jones said. “The tape is the tape, and I did what I did and obviously I had a great team. I just wanted to come and kind of learn more about NFL football and learn a new playbook, which I thought I did a good job with. I understand all the plays.”

Now, his ankle is the big question for the game.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.