COLUMBUS — Remember Cardale Jones?
The third-string Ohio State quarterback who nearly got kicked off the team? The guy who sent the harebrained Tweet that hit a little too close to home for big-time programs everywhere?
"Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL," Jones wrote in October 2012. "We ain't come to play SCHOOL. Classes are POINTLESS."
Forget that Cardale Jones.
"Talk about a changed guy,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said. “He was a guy who couldn’t get out of his own way a couple years ago. You’re starting to see the progress in the classroom. You remember the famous tweet or whatever. It’s a different guy. He had to be a different guy or he wouldn’t be here.”
Watch Jones closely during the spring game Saturday at Ohio Stadium. He just might be the Buckeyes’ quarterback of the future.
With senior star Braxton Miller recovering from minor shoulder surgery, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore with the howitzer right arm has taken a majority of the first-team snaps this spring and snared control in the backup quarterback derby. Meyer said the remade Jones is clearly ahead of redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who will also lead one of the squads Saturday.
"There’s a lot of pressure, because our offense, we’re known for something," Jones said after last weekend’s student appreciation practice. "Stepping into that [starting] role and filling big shoes for this short time, it's huge for anybody. But with our coaches trust in me, I feel like i can do anything."
For Jones, earning that trust was a long shot.
A Class of 2011 commit, the Cleveland Glenville graduate spent a year at military school before arriving at Ohio State in 2012 with an indifferent attitude. Meyer recognized early that Jones was a poor fit. The coaches met with the quarterback’s family, and were ready to send him home.
"He had a one-way bus ticket back to Cleveland about a year ago," Meyer said.
Yet an appeal from offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman granted Jones one final chance. If Jones could just realize the opportunity before him, Herman knew he had the charisma and game to succeed at Ohio State. The coach saw a "class clown" who needed to grow up.
"He stood on the table for me," Jones said. "He stuck his neck out for me, and I'm pretty sure I won't be able to repay him for that."
Still, he is trying. And, so far, succeeding. Jones said he feels comfortable leading the offense this spring, which history suggests is critical. Miller has not remained healthy for a full season since early in high school.
Jones, who has tried to emulate former backup Kenny Guiton, still needs a heavy dose of polish. After a closed practice last week, Meyer said, "Cardale was bad today, and when I say bad, I mean real bad." He threw a pair of interceptions in the Buckeyes’ open scrimmage days later.
Jones is powerful, mobile, and embracing the responsibilities of his position. Herman said, "He’s playing like a quarterback at Ohio State should."
"Cardale is 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds and can throw it through that wall," he added. "Our message is, ’Use some of that, use the talents that you have and then we’ll develop the portions of your game that need to be developed.'"
Jones is ready to do just that, confident he will soon be defined not by a mindless old Tweet but a suddenly vast future.
"The growing up process was helpful, and it came from the coaches believing in me, pushing me," he said. " ... I'm not going to lie. I had a lot of reality checks from our coaches, and I feel like I owe them in a big way, because in my opinion, I probably should have been out of here."