Cardale Jones has never been higher than third string on the depth chart. Yet, it hasn’t kept him from being well known. Of course, his notoriety is more infamous than celebrated. But his status could soon be changing.
Not only does Jones occupy the inside track to be Braxton Miller’s backup, he’s exhibited a measure of humility after a dubious tweet that garnered national attention.
When Jones questioned why he had to attend class, it earned him a one-game suspension. The course for getting out of Urban Meyer and Tom Herman’s doghouse lasted much longer than one week, though. Jones was an immature freshman who was ill prepared and carried a bad attitude.
And that was after a year at Fork Union Military Academy. It got so bad in Columbus that Jones’s parents made the trek down I-71 to meet with Meyer about transfer options.
“I was almost out of here,” Jones said. “The growing up process was helpful and it came from the coaches believing in me and keep pushing me. We had a sit down with my family to talk about what they expected of me and what I wasn’t doing. For me to become the quarterback they felt like I should be, I wasn’t meeting those standards at that point in time.”
Said Meyer: “He was a guy who had a one-way bus ticket back to Cleveland about a year ago, with just his whole seriousness approach to academics, approach to lifestyle and approach to Ohio State football.”
It was one of many reality checks for Jones, who said he feels like he owes his coaches a debt of gratitude for allowing him to rebuild trust. Instead of criticism and punishment from coaches, Jones is now the recipient of confidence. Both Meyer and Herman have lauded him for his methodology during the spring.
“He was a guy that couldn’t get out of his own way,” Meyer said. “You’re starting to see the progress in the classroom. You remember the famous tweet? It’s a different guy.”
The Jones-J.T. Barrett duel has been mostly one-sided. That development isn’t surprising, but the player many expected to assume control of the position isn’t out in front. Barrett, the first handpicked quarterback of the Meyer-Herman up-tempo offense era, has been overshadowed by Jones’s efficiency.
“[Jones] has done nothing to deserve less reps with the ones right now,” Herman said. “He’s playing like a quarterback at Ohio State should.”
Jones’s predecessor, Kenny Guiton, played a significant role in salvaging his career. Images of Guiton’s Purdue heroics and record-setting days against Cal and Florida A&M are indelible. But he also was in possession of a one-way bus ticket that went unused.
The turnaround took place because of hard work, not talent. The on-field success was a byproduct of a noteworthy work ethic. Jones was a spectator to that reclamation and rededicated himself in a similar manner.
“That's where I learned everything from – Kenny Guiton,” Jones said. “Kenny Guiton actually put me in that hard position because he was the model backup, and I was nowhere near Kenny Guiton. He put me in awkward conversations with our coaches trying to live up to him and fill his shoes.”
Clearing his mind has served Jones well. When he steps on the practice field, he’s freethinking and loose. Given a significant opportunity with Braxton Miller out for spring drills, Jones is the most attentive quarterback in the room. Consider it an injection of Guiton into Jones and listening to the words of Herman.
For more than two years, Herman has resided squarely in Jones’s corner. The offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach’s unwavering support remains central to Jones’s progression.
“The biggest impact on me next to my mom and Coach [Ted] Ginn [Sr.] is probably Coach Herman,” Jones said. “He stood on the table for me, he put his neck out for me. I’m pretty sure I could never repay him for that. He’s had a huge impact on my life.”
Letting his coaches down is letting Buckeye Nation down, according to Jones. It’s all connected – coaches to team to fan base. It’s all smiles at the moment. In the fall, Jones could give fans another reason to cheer. Miller’s checkered past with injuries may result in playing time.
Just who will they see on the field? Someone remarkably different than the handoff machine they spotted last season. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Jones owns long strides and a rocket arm. His size and speed lend him the ability to create a positive result on a broken play.
“I’ve come a long way,” Jones said, “but I’ve still got a long way to go.”