Credit where credit is due, this is the best Landry Jones has looked for a long time. Hopefully that is down to some form of epiphany at the end of last season rather than the quality of opponent in week one. Yet there are some encouraging signs here.
For starters, Jones looks slimmer. He was too big last year and his mobility was non-existent – he was like a great big block of stone in the pocket. Against UTEP he looked lighter and nimbler, his footwork was better and he kept a few plays alive. He still took some avoidable sacks, but there’s evidence of improvement. The key will be not slipping into old habits against stronger opponents.
Even so it’s good to see Jones has been working during the off-season. I’ve no way of knowing whether he got into a comfort zone last year but there are plenty of reasons why that could’ve happened. Oklahoma were the pre-season #1 team and many expected the Sooners to win because of their quarterback. Jones was being hyped up by multiple members of the national scouting fraternity as a top NFL draft pick. He’d also witnessed Sam Bradford’s positive rookie year having left the same offensive system. Life was good for Landry Jones.
Yet when the season began, he was awful. He relied totally on scripted plays, often throwing blind or without making any kind of read. He forced throws, he took sacks. He’d crumble under any kind of pressure. By the end of the year they were taking him out of the red zone and playing a rushing quarterback. He didn’t declare because he knew his stock had been obliterated. Instead of being the top-10 pick people were projecting in the summer, he was now a mid-rounder at best.
It looks like that experience acted as a wake-up call. This is only one game, but it’s better. He’s always had a good arm and the first touchdown pass is one of the best you’ll see all season. At 1:02 in the video above he drops back, makes a couple of reads before throwing to the opposite side of the field for a huge score to Kenny Stills. Note the Manning-esque stutter-step footwork. Note the arm – there are quarterbacks in the NFL who cannot make that throw. It’s incredible. He benefits greatly from elite pass protection on the play, but he makes the most of it.
There’s the usual dose of scripted plays here and one thing that will always bother me with Jones is the scheme. He’s programmed to avoid deviating away from what he’s told. The best quarterbacks in the NFL have multiple options at the LOS and make the correct decision as the play unfolds. The ability to improvise is a key, underrated aspect when looking at potential pro-quarterbacks. Defenses are not going to make life easy for you at the next level and being able to respond to adversity is a big-time characteristic. For Oklahoma, Jones more often than not knows exactly where he’s going to throw before he even leaves the huddle. This has led to mistakes in the past with teams second guessing the play-call and even in this video you’ll Jones snap, turns to his left and throw semi-blind to a covered receiver.
That won’t cut it at the next level, but there are positives in this video. If he can show a little more inspiration, continue to improve his footwork in the pocket and keep making big plays – he can propel his stock to a level many still continue to project. I remain sceptical for now, but he has a lot of football left to show he’s worthy of a place in round one.