Playing a starring role during the three-game stretch of games that began with the Big Ten Championship Game, included a Sugar Bowl win vs. No. 1 Alabama and ended with a victory against Oregon for the national title was Cardale Jones. The third-year sophomore quarterback was thrust into a starting role prior to the league title game and went from an afterthought to an unforgettable Buckeye hero.
So this spring is different from his previous as a Buckeye, right? Especially since the two quarterbacks who began last season ahead of him in the depth chart, Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, are both recovering from injuries.
“Spring is always about getting better and working on fundamentals,” said Jones, who on more an one occasion Thursday told reporters that he was not overly concerned about the competition he will have with Miller and Barrett for the right to start the 2015 season at quarterback.
Jones is the only member of the three-man battle to be full-go this spring. Miller and Barrett continue to rehab shoulder and ankle ailments, respectively. Even so, Jones does not believe that will give him a head start when it comes to who will get the nod this fall.
“I don’t think that I have an advantage over those guys because they’re still doing things to get better,” Jones said. “A quarterback always gets better in the film room, and the way that we watch film and the way we get down in the film room, they can always get better. (Playing this spring is) helping me as far as doing the physical things, but where we really need to stand out and improve is the mental part of the game.”
Jones showed off his impressive arm during wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, but he wants to spend the spring working on not always relying on that aspect of his skill set. Footwork, work in the film room and fundamentals are the name of the game for the Cleveland Glenville product in the coming weeks.
That has to be music to Urban Meyer’s ears. The Ohio State head coach described Jones as “still almost a rookie” who Meyer wants to see “get a million reps this spring.” The rookie description was not something Jones bristled at hearing.
“I definitely don’t feel like a veteran,” Jones said. “I haven’t been through a full season. I’ve played like 400, maybe 500 snaps overall in my career. I understand what he’s saying from that standpoint. I didn’t do anything on my own during those three games. I understand what Coach Meyer is coming from when he says that.”
The main difference for Jones since taking over in the fourth quarter of the Michigan game last season has come off the field. The junior-to-be said he has been more aware that he is in the spotlight now. Things he says and does are going to be scrutinized.
“It’s just everyone knows you,” he said. “The first week back in classes on campus was wild. It was hard to pay attention in class – for the other students – because they were staring me up and down. It’s pretty cool.”
As for the upcoming competition, Jones downplayed the showdown. For Jones, the quarterbacks have always been in competition – no matter who was the starter at the time.
“It’s so weird that you guys are making a big deal out of it now because we’ve always been like that. It’s just you guys finally got a chance to see all of us play,” Jones said. “I really don’t know what else extra to say about the competition because it’s always been a competition in that room.”
So the competition will continue and likely will not have an outcome until August. For now, Jones will keep his focus on improvement.
At least until the Buckeyes receive their championship rings. Jones was asked if everything that has happened to him since becoming the starter has seemed real. He said not yet.
“It still hasn’t, and I’m just waiting until we get our championship rings. I’ll probably freak out for a couple of weeks after that,” Jones said.