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Ohio State QB battle: The case for Cardale Jones

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The time to revel in his accomplishments ended relatively quickly for Cardale Jones, but the Ohio State quarterback has spent months motivated by what is still missing from his short but loaded résumé.

At the top of the list is the fact that despite helping the Buckeyes win a trophy in each of his three career starts, Jones has never graded a champion under coach Urban Meyer's exacting standards.

Just below that, and perhaps more critical to the challenge ahead of him in a two-man race for Ohio State's starting job in training camp this month, is the fact that he has never actually won an open competition since arriving on campus.

"I haven't proven anything to myself, my teammates, or my coaches to label myself as a starter," Jones said. "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."

There is no questioning the logic, but it's what happened once Jones was thrust into the fire that revealed exactly what makes him so valuable to the Buckeyes as they begin their title defense.

And while the fact that Jones helped deliver a national title to Ohio State might be a fine place to start as he builds his case to continue leading the program when the season opens on Sept. 7 against Virginia Tech, there's much more to it than that.

Arm strength

There is one head-to-head matchup that Jones simply isn't losing, not with Barrett or perhaps anybody else in the nation.

There is some high-caliber artillery attached to his right shoulder that stands alone among college quarterbacks, and his ability to stretch the field, out-throw any coverage and deliver deadly deep balls took the Ohio State offense to another level during the postseason run.

"The bigger kid threw the ball down the field a little more," a Big Ten defensive coordinator said this offseason. "That's the interesting thing there, though it's not that J.T. couldn't throw it, because he can.

"But [Jones] can sure throw it, and he throws a hell of a catchable ball."

And when receivers were able to get their hands on a toss from Jones, piles of yardage came right along with it.

Jones didn't register enough attempts to qualify among NCAA statistical leaders last season, but his 15.4 yards per completion would have led the nation and he also set a pace of throwing a touchdown pass every 13 attempts. Those numbers are impressive enough regardless of the level of competition, but they are perhaps more notable because they came without having the benefit of stuffing the box score against overmatched, nonconference opponents.

"He's the biggest arm in college football," Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. "And it gets there really fast. So if you're in coverage, you better know this guy has got that skill set."

Knowledge of the system

There is obviously a small sample size to evaluate in game situations, but the veteran experience Jones can provide is often overlooked.

Now a redshirt junior, Jones' enrollment at Ohio State coincided with Meyer's arrival in January 2012. And with Miller now at H-back, Jones is the elder statesman in his position room and is entering his fourth year in Meyer's spread system, making him quite well-versed in the intricacies of the playbook.

"Cardale, he's been here a long time," Meyer said jokingly. "I think it's his eighth year here."

Those seasons haven't all gone smoothly, from the rough start with his suspension for his infamous tweet about not coming to "play school" to some disagreements with the coaching staff that at times made it seem unlikely that Jones would even have the chance to finish his career with the Buckeyes.

But with time, Jones has increasingly dedicated himself to film study, learning the responsibilities of every player on every play and developing the communication skills required to pass them along at the most important position on the field.

"Knowing the playbook, of course it's better because over time you get better," Jones said. "But as far as everything else, light-years. Being able to go through the spring getting all the reps, that kind of boosted my confidence and kind of sent me light-years ahead of where I was last year.

"For those who say I don't know the offense and just overthrow coverages, they probably don't know football."

Leadership

Even after enduring some rocky moments during the maturation process, Jones is still an easygoing, wide-smiling, joke-playing teammate in the locker room.

And while that may not exactly fit the traditional mold of the stoic leader at quarterback, it has certainly endeared him to the rest of the Ohio State roster. At the same time, he earned their respect for the way he handled his business and stayed ready for his opportunity when it finally arrived.

"He has a very workmanlike demeanor," new quarterbacks coach Tim Beck said. "I know that he focuses on the task at hand, and when it's time for football, it's time for football. He's very focused and knows what he wants to accomplish on a daily basis. He's loose, he's confident, but he's also just a big kid. Really he is, just a big kid who loves life and loves football.

"As you saw in those three games, when it's time to go to work, it's time to go to work."

With training camp in full swing, that time has once again arrived for Jones. And now it's up to him to add to his case as the best option for the Buckeyes so he can fill those holes on his résumé.