Cardale Jones had been at George Whitfield’s San Diego-based quarterback academy for barely more than a week when he decided he needed more.
Jones arrived in California the day after the 2016 CFP National Championship game ready for days that would run from 8:30 a.m. past 5 p.m. but quickly decided he needed even more work, a request that the famed quarterback guru was more than happy to fulfill.
“I talked with Cardale in Week 2 of rookie school and said we can’t add days but we can get more out of days, and he goes, ‘Deal,’” Whitfield said.
Whitfield brought in San Diego Chargers center Chris Watt to come in and work with Jones for an hour and a half beginning at 7 a.m. There was plenty to work on, especially considering Jones spent his college career in shotgun but almost certainly will be under center in the NFL.
“When they come out and we start, I always ask those guys to identify three things that they want to work on, build, change… you have to show some self-awareness, and he did,” Whitfield said. “He said I want to work on my under center mechanics, my drop sequence – because he’s been in the gun and clapping to get the ball – and touch. I would have added touch in if he didn’t.”
The entire point of Jones’ trip out west was to address the areas in which he had perceived or actual weaknesses, and that began with his arm strength. Whitfield joked that Jones could throw a pistachio through a brick wall but said he needed to add finesse to his repertoire.
He compared it to a basketball player’s need to become multifaceted, noting that post players are often forced to develop jump shots and outside shooters need to be able to show they can also get inside to keep defenders honest.
In the case of Jones, his big arm comes as advertised but he also needs to showcase his ability to get the ball to running backs and fullbacks.
“You’re going to have to develop touch and deliver a football… make everyone in the huddle a viable receiver,” Whitfield said.
Speaking at the NFL Combine on Thursday, Jones seemed bullish on his chances of success during his throwing audition that will come Saturday but also said he doesn’t know how much stock teams will put into his performance.
“I mean, dropping back and throwing the ball to guys in shorts and shirts, I don’t think that’s going to ‘wow’ many people when I don’t have any pressure and I don’t have to avoid anything,” Jones said. “Maybe a couple of drills, but I think the combine’s going to be a good time to show what I can do but I don’t think too many people are going to say, ‘He had a great combine, he’s going to be the best quarterback to ever play the game.’”
Jones’ downplaying of the physical aspect of the combine stood in contrast to his excitement over the off-the-field components of the talent showcase. Once known as the player who tweeted about the pointlessness of classes, Jones has spent more time at Whitfield’s academy in the classroom than on the field each day.
He seemed to bristle about skepticism about the cerebral involvement of quarterbacks in Urban Meyer’s offense, saying that he’s looking forward to the chance to interview with teams and show off his intelligence.
“I don’t get a lot of credit for my knowledge of the game. I don’t think OSU gets a lot of credit for the things and the responsibilities they put on a quarterback. I can’t wait to shock them.
“I think anyone who knows me and has been around me knows I’m a pretty smart young man, but the nature of the offense, everybody things it’s zone read, running quarterback (offense). It’s definitely not that at all.”
That’s an area that has been addressed extensively in recent months. Whitfield brought in Jimmy Raye, who quarterbacked Michigan State to a national championship in 1966 and served as an NFL assistant coach from 1977-2013, to develop Jones’ football acumen.
With two 90-minute classroom sessions per day, there’s been no shortage of opportunity for Jones to expand and fine-tune his understanding of the game through methods that haven’t always been comfortable.
“Coach Raye’s been phenomenal,” Whitfield said. “They spend so much time together. He’s been grooming him and class has been slow, methodical, dynamic and even antagonistic at points. You put him on the board and if he starts writing you interrupt him, make him second-guess himself. After a while, he says, ‘I don’t have to second-guess myself, this is the answer.’ And that’s what you want. It’s probably the single best move I’ve done in eight or nine years of the draft, bringing in someone like him.”
It seems to be paying off. Hours before Jones stepped to the podium to take questions, Whitfield said his pupil was “ecstatic” to talk football with NFL teams this week. The results thus far have been promising, Whitfield said.
“I love his progress,” he said. “He’s been grinding, he’s been building and he understands what’s at stake. That’s what you want. Are they taking the process as serious as possible? You have an opportunity to change the direction of your family for theoretically generations if you attack this thing.”
It all started in January when Jones made the choice to put in the extra work.
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