Mac ‘Joker’ Jones to make first career start


CW / Hannah Saad

Two years ago a smiley, lanky freshman made his first trip to “The Crevice,” an apartment at a since-destroyed complex located behind Buffalo Phil’s on the Strip.

The Crevice, affectionately named by a group of Alabama football players who routinely hung out there, was leased at the time by former Alabama offensive lineman Richie Petitbon, who’s now at Illinois. 

It was also the place where that freshman, quarterback Mac Jones, earned a nickname that sticks with him to this day.

“He was doing his classic weird movements, moving his head and smiling, dancing around and giggling and laughing,” Petitbon said. “I was like, ‘Man, this guy looks and moves just like the Joker.’ Right when I said it, everybody was like, ‘Oh my god, he looks just like him.’”

Petitbon still almost always calls Jones “Joker” instead of “Mac.”

After Jones, now a redshirt sophomore, played the majority of Saturday’s win over Tennessee in relief of injured starter Tua Tagovailoa, several teammates expressed their support for “Joker” on social media and in postgame interviews.

Jones finished 6-for-11 for 72 yards with a few errant throws, but coach Nick Saban pointed out that two of Jones’ five incompletions were dropped and said the quarterback handled a difficult situation well.

Redshirt junior tight end Miller Forristall said he told Jones he had as much faith in him as he would in any other quarterback. That includes Heisman contender Tagovailoa, who had tightrope surgery on his right ankle on Sunday. 

Saban said the team hopes Tagovailoa can begin active rehab by the middle of next week, which means Jones will make his first career start this Saturday against the Arkansas Razorbacks.

“[Jones] can throw the crap out of the ball,” Forristall said. “It’s not like our playbook gets limited or we stop attacking down the field. We’re going to roll just the same as we always do.”

Saban has said multiple times that Jones struggled early in his career to control his emotions and “play the next play,” a common Saban maxim about moving on from mistakes. That process is ongoing, but Saban has been pleased with the improvements from his backup quarterback.

“I think with Mac it’s not a matter of arm talent or ability, it’s staying focused and being able to execute on a consistent basis and make good choices and decisions,” Saban said. “When he’s done that he’s been very, very effective, and that’s what we’ve worked with him on throughout the season.”

Forristall, who related to Jones’ struggles with inconsistency, agreed with Saban about the quarterback’s more even-keeled game.

“When you focus so bad on how you did the last play, then that affects the next play, especially playing quarterback,” Forristall said. “You’ve got to step up and lead the offense. Whether he throws a bad ball here or there or two bad balls here or there, he steps up and can drop a dime on the next play.”

Petitbon said he understands why Saban prefers quarterbacks, who are the leaders of teams and the faces of programs, to be unflappable. He acknowledged that Jones could have managed his emotions better in the early part of his career, but said he saw greater calmness and maturity in him as time went on.

The energy and intensity of Jones, whom Petitbon called “a perfectionist” and “the ultimate competitor,” are part of why he’s so beloved by his teammates.

“He has that mindset where he wants to be the best,” Petitbon said. “He wants to win. He wants to win on every rep. Probably most of it comes from him putting expectations on himself.”

Despite Jones’ competitiveness, there’s no shortage of lighthearted moments in practice, either. Teammates love his laugh “more of a high-pitched cackle,” Forristall said and his ability to turn anything into a joke. On the sideline during practice or between reps, Jones’ sense of humor is constantly on display. 

“Weird movements, arms flailing, head moving, legs kicking, if you can imagine that,” Petitbon said with a laugh. “He could be all over the place, dancing, moving. He’s the Joker, man.”

It even extends to pregame warmups. While Petitbon was still at Alabama, Jones had unique handshakes and dances with many of his teammates and went around to each one before games to do their specific handshake.

Petitbon isn’t sure if the tradition has continued into this season, but he fondly remembers his handshake with Jones.

“I would just give him a firm, normal handshake, we’d step back and then run up and kinda jump in the air,” Petitbon said. “So at first it looked normal – step back and then jump in the air and chest bump.”

In the five days since Jones entered against Tennessee, every teammate interviewed has lit up when asked about their dancing, laughing, handshaking Joker of a quarterback.

“He plays with a lot of emotion,” Forristall said. “That’s something a lot of guys feed off of and love and appreciate. That’s something I love about the guy. He’s going to be fun to play with.”