CLEVELAND -- No promises were made to Cardale Jones, and nothing is ever guaranteed at the most important position on the field.
But there is at least one certainty for now at Ohio State in the early stages of what is shaping up to be a quarterback derby with record-setting intrigue. After making his intention to return to the Buckeyes official during a news conference in Cleveland, Jones will come back to campus at the top of the depth chart and have the first crack at leading a defense of the national title he helped claim on Monday.
Eventually J.T. Barrett will have a healthy ankle and won’t have his mobility limited, as it will be in spring practice. If Braxton Miller decides to stick around and not use his graduate transfer, at some point in the summer he will again be able to throw a football after two surgeries on his shoulder.
But neither of them are in any kind of position to challenge Jones over the next few months. And already with momentum on his side and a chance to further establish himself by leading the Buckeyes during offseason workouts and spring camp, the rising junior will be the favorite to earn the job for the first time in his career with the program.
“[Coach Urban Meyer] didn’t make me any promises,” Jones said Thursday at Ginn Academy. “He told me what I had to do and what I have to improve on and that was about it.
“He just gave me the pros and cons, basically how my career has gone so far. You know, just let me know the type of things that the NFL is looking for, the things that I have right now and the things that I can go back to school to work on.”
Meyer, Jones and his high school coach, Ted Ginn Sr., started crafting a list of those areas of improvement during a meeting Thursday morning when the decision was finalized. Fine-tuning mechanics, improving Jones' ability to recognize coverages and becoming a better leader in the huddle was at the top of the list.
Of course, all of those would figure to take a step forward with more experience, and Jones was already recognizing strides in those areas after just three games.While in some ways he’s working backward after already accomplishing more in a month than the vast majority of quarterbacks do in their entire careers, there's a school of thought that his stock would never be higher than it is now. But Jones could really make that look silly with another year to work on his craft.
And even better for him, there’s probably not going to be any chance of complacency with Barrett and potentially Miller around, vying for playing time.
“I mean, you can always improve on any and everything,” Jones said. “Just to become a better vocal leader for my teammates, work on my mechanics and definitely gain more experience.
“It’s more about the intangibles, working on things like my mechanics, tightening things up there. I think this offseason will help with that.”
Jones will enter it as the top choice for the Buckeyes, even if for the moment it’s by default.
Barrett might not be able to run without any restrictions during the practices in March, but he should be ready in plenty of time for training camp and proved what he’s capable of by setting the Big Ten record for touchdowns before his injury.
Miller might elect to leave or he might even be tempted to change positions for the Buckeyes. But if he throws his name in the hat, his two Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Awards speak for themselves.
But Jones now has evidence to support his case as well. He’s got championship rings for each of his three starts and physical tools that had NFL teams thinking about how high he's be selected in the draft. He’s also going to have a head start on his competition on the practice field.
“I’ll have to deal with that when the time comes,” Jones said. “Hopefully I am the starter, but I mean, if I’m not, I’ll have to wait for my opportunity to present itself again.”
There’s one thing that’s clear, though: There shouldn’t be any reason to wait when the Buckeyes get back on the practice field.