When Cardale Jones and his powerful 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame lumbered through the doorway and into the postgame interview room following Ohio State's Spring Game April 18, the 22-year-old sophomore flashed that momentous smile fans love to see.
With a grin still in place, Jones took his place at the podium for what turned into a mega-brief press availability. He started answering questions about spring practice, the team's imminent trip to the White House, how far he can really chuck a football and the hit he laid on roommate Tyvis Powell following the latter's interception.
One question, though, struck a cord with Jones and for a brief second left him speechless.
What specifically do you have to do between now and August to start the season as Ohio State's No. 1 quarterback?
"I don't know," Jones said, after quarterbacking the Gray to a 17-14 victory against Scarlet. "Just continue to get better."
It's a wide-ranging answer, especially for someone who's been so on point since he got forced into the starting spot when J.T. Barrett suffered a broken ankle against Michigan in the regular season finale.
But even for Jones, the guy who led Ohio State to college football's highest mountain, the next three months might be far more important than anything else he's done in his life.
"You can always work on all areas of your game," Jones said after finishing the day 19-of-42 for 304 yards, with two touchdowns and pair of interceptions. "But things I think I improved on (this spring) is, like, being more of a vocal leader. Being more hands-on with guys instead of just telling them what to do, show them and move their splits and adjust, things like that."
Jones didn't really have a choice not to do those things with Barrett and Braxton Miller standing behind him during drills, unable to participate at 100 percent. His head coach, however, knows comes down to producing between the lines on gameday.
"That wasn't a Cardale day," Urban Meyer said after the Spring Game. "He played behind a makeshift offensive line. I can give you a bunch of excuses, but he's got to be much sharper than that."
It's true, guys like Taylor Decker, Pat Elflein and Billy Price played sparingly that day. Starting center Jacoby Boren didn't play at all. But even when Decker and others were in the game during the first few series, Jones struggled.
"I thought early we were missing on a few things, but one of the things about spring ball that's interesting is there's been a lot of reps of our base plays that they had a chance to look at," offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said.
"That wasn't a Cardale day. He played behind a makeshift offensive line. I can give you a bunch of excuses, but he's got to be much sharper than that."– Urban Meyer
Sure, matching up against guys who see you every day in practice makes things difficult for anyone. Jones did hit some big plays during the game, mainly a pair of long tosses to Corey Smith for touchdowns.
Meyer preaches how quarterbacks in his system are only as good as the skill guys around them, a theory proved during the College Football Playoff. Ohio State shredded the Alabama and Oregon defenses despite Jones turning the ball over a total of four times against them.
Ball security, decision-making, trusting the pocket and improving his mechanics are all things Jones must get better at to avoid those errors, as Kyle laid out last month in Film Study.
Yet another reason why this summer's so important — especially because he won't be under the watchful eye of Meyer, Warinner or quarterbacks coach Tim Beck.
"There's stretches everybody goes through," Jones said, "all really things that we have to do on our own. Our coaches really can't be around too much."
Added Warinner: "He's growing as a leader, growing as a student of the game and how to manage himself and how to do all those things. He's getting better at that. Sky's the limit for him."
There's no doubt about that, and while Barrett and Miller won't give him the starting job easily once they're healthy enough to compete, Jones is mindful of what he needs to do to not get relegated to the backseat once again in what will be his junior season.
"Carrying this leadership over to the weight room and the summer conditioning, things like that," Jones said. "So the guys I'll be going with can see that they can trust and believe in me and they know I got their back."