COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There are two different kinds of champions at Ohio State, and right now, Cardale Jones has only been one of them.
The redshirt, junior quarterback stunned the world with his three-game run through the postseason, claiming a Big Ten title in his starting debut and following that up with consecutive upsets against Alabama and Oregon, leading the Buckeyes to the crown in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Those championships can never be taken away from him, and Jones earned the rings that came with them. But based on Ohio State’s higher, in-house standards for performance, there is still plenty of work to be done. That is just one reason Jones considers himself still a third-stringer on the most loaded unit in the nation at the most important position in the game.
"We as a team and me as an individual get a lot of praise for how well we did in those games, but I didn’t even grade out as a champion as far as coach’s standards," Jones said. "I haven’t proven anything yet. I haven’t proven anything to myself, my teammates, my coaches to label myself as a starter. That’s my opinion, my personal opinion.
"I’m kind of harder on myself than the coaches, but I was thrown into that position. I didn’t beat out J.T. [Barrett] going into the Michigan game. I didn’t beat out Braxton [Miller]. Unfortunately both guys got hurt, and luckily enough I was prepared to try to take advantage of the situation."
The circumstances will soon change again for Jones, and with all three decorated passers set to return healthy for training camp, Ohio State is bracing for what might be the most competitive, entertaining and heated quarterback competition in recent memory.
Miller will soon be able to throw without limitations, restarting a stellar career that was put on hold after he won consecutive Big Ten player of the year trophies before suffering a pair of shoulder injuries.
Barrett was already able to take reps in the spring on a limited basis as he recovered from the ankle injury, and he's got his own Big Ten quarterback of the year trophy to help make his case as the best option for the Buckeyes moving forward.
Jones, of course, proved more than capable with his historic run through the postseason. While he continued his development by handling all the first-team reps in spring practice, he isn’t assured of anything moving forward. And he’s clearly aware that as quickly as his star has risen, it could burn out just as fast unless he makes improvements in his knowledge of the entire playbook and progress with his accuracy.
"I think my leadership skills, communication on the field, just as far as being more vocal improved [this spring]," Jones said. "Understanding where guys are supposed to line up, because we had a lot of young guys going into spring and they’re not going to know [all the assignments], so I’ve got to make sure I know and put guys in the right spot. There’s a difference between a step to the left on the numbers or a step to the right off the numbers, and understanding that little part of the game.
"I’m working harder than ever. I understand that I want to be the starting quarterback of this team, but I know I have two guys in front of me who are working just as hard."
Jones made it clear that it wasn’t an accident putting Barrett and Miller ahead of him right now.
But that certainly doesn’t mean he plans on it staying that way.
"That’s not a chip on my shoulder," Jones said. "It’s just an understanding that it’s far from over and I haven’t done anything yet."