Urban Meyer once said Cardale Jones had a “one-way bus ticket back to Cleveland" if he didn't get his head on straight.
Now, Ohio State's head coach isn't shy about shining praise toward the player who quarterbacked the Buckeyes to Big Ten, Sugar Bowl and national championships to cap the 2014 season.
"On a 1-10 (scale), 10. I did not see that in him and that's not a shot, that's on his eval," Meyer said in Chicago at Big Ten Media Days. "But his preparation for the Alabama game has just changed my whole (perspective), and really it's continued all the way through."
Jones' regain of focus obviously came with knowing he was Ohio State's lone realistic option at quarterback for the postseason once J.T. Barrett suffered a fractured ankle in the regular season finale against Michigan.
"Cardale is much better. Two years ago, I would have said (that) didn’t exist. He’s got his own style of leadership. If you notice, people migrate to him. He’s got a sense of humor, but he’s also a very serious guy when it’s time to get down to business."– Urban Meyer
Now, the reports Meyer's receiving from strength coach Mickey Marotti have mostly all been positive, again showing how the quarterback understands what lies in front of him: A fall camp battle with Barrett for the starting job.
"He's done a nice job," Meyer said. "He hasn't been perfect, but he's done a very good job of growth."
Jones was late to a charity event in Sandusky, Ohio, July 10 — "he was either late because of traffic, or late because he was Cardale," Meyer joked then — but the head coach knows there are plenty worse things the 6-foot-5, 250-pound redshirt junior could struggle with.
"His stuff is 'stuff.' Late for this, whatever. It's not the headline news," Meyer said.
It's not, but Meyer's alluded to the fact that every little minute detail will be considered during camp's battle to start at quarterback, both on the field and off.
That includes leadership skills, which Meyer said Jones still has some room to improve.
"Cardale is much better. Two years ago, I would have said (that) didn’t exist," Meyer said. "He’s got his own style of leadership. If you notice, people migrate to him. He’s got a sense of humor, but he’s also a very serious guy when it’s time to get down to business."
Barrett's been "off the charts" this summer with his leadership training, according to Meyer, something that shouldn't come as a surprise. He was the lone freshman on the leadership committee upon his arrival to campus in 2013.
But Jones' maturation in that area has been noticed by his teammates, too, just like their head coach.
"I think the most growth for him came when he didn’t win that spot initially, when J.T. won the spot," Taylor Decker said. "I think he realized he had to take more responsibility, he had to mature as a person and not just a quarterback. I think he kind of took that to heart and throughout the season he prepared properly and he handled himself with the proper demeanor and when he got his shot, from all the practice he got the right way he shined."
Added Joshua Perry, who, like Decker and Jones, came to Ohio State the same year: "You see the growth and he's thrown into a position where he needs to make plays for us to be successful and he does it. He takes over with the leadership and everything, so that's huge. Cardale is Cardale so he still has those moments where he does Cardale Jones-like things. It is what it is, but to just to see how far he's come, we're really proud of that."
He still trails Barrett in some of those areas, but is also just simply different than the Texan in how he leads a huddle and makes plays. Which is OK.
Either way, it's a long way from a one-way bus ticket back to his hometown.
"I think it's a work in progress," Meyer said. "He's got some leadership skills, it's much different than a J.T., but he's really grown in that part."