Landry Jones stays cool under pressure
NORMAN, Okla. — No one insulted his family or kicked his dog.
That might be what it takes these days to get Landry Jones to crack. Instead, the senior quarterback at Oklahoma slogged through another day in front of the recorders and the cameras, another 20 minutes of questions on everything from the NFL to the Big 12. He talked about offense, passing records and the Sooners’ season-opener Saturday at UTEP.
And he did it with a face that would have made Johnny Chan jealous.
Personally, I’m tired of it. Here’s why:
Jones has his name all over the Oklahoma record books — he’ll finish his career with more wins than any quarterback in Sooner history. He has more touchdown passes, more yards and more completions than guys like Sam Bradford, Josh Heupel, Jason White and more. But you wouldn’t know it.
He also was a no-show in what amounted to the Big 12 championship game, a nightmare game where he accounted for four turnovers in the 44-10 loss to Oklahoma State. Jones was great last year, throwing for 4,463 yards and 29 touchdowns, but he wasn’t great the last four games of the season when he managed just one touchdown pass and seven interceptions. You wouldn’t know that, either.
None of it seems to be enough to get any kind of response.
Jones is good enough to win the Heisman and be one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NCAA history. And Jones is so baffling that he was motivated enough to spend part of his offseason working with a specialist quarterback coach in California.
But possibly the most perplexing issue is knowing that Jones will be a second option in crucial situations this season.
Even that doesn’t seem to reach Jones.
It’s unlikely any other quarterback, besides the NFL’s Mark Sanchez, a pawn in the Great Tim Tebow Chess Game, is a clipboard holder when the ball is just outside the goal line.
Anyone think the Jets have it all figured out?
Listen, Blake Bell was sensational last season. Good enough to get a nickname for his short-yardage success: The Belldozer. Bell scored four touchdowns against Baylor. He scored three against Iowa in the Insight Bowl win and had 13 touchdowns for the season — a school record for freshmen. But the reason Bell was even used was because of some deficiency from Jones. Yes, Jones is an accomplished passer, but for whatever reason, the Sooners were not comfortable with Jones in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Credit Bob Stoops and his staff for coming up with a fruitful alternative. The Bell experiment is no longer an experiment. It’s a staple. Expect it more this season. Expect it, because it works.
Situational substitutions are the norm for about any position on the field. Third-down backs are common. Maybe a fullback here or an extra defender there. Rarely has that been a good thing for quarterbacks.
And rarely does Jones change his tone, his facial expression or his mannerisms. He says things like, “I’m going to go out there and play Oklahoma football. That’s what I’m here for.” Never offensive. Never controversial. That’s just his style. Asking him to be more than that is like asking Russell Westbrook to be a different kind of point guard. Not going to happen.
But Westbrook isn’t coming out of the game in the last two minutes. Jones very well could. Is it out of the question for me to be upset that he’s not upset?
“Let me see,” Jones said. “As a leader and a competitor, you want to be the guy who leads the team to the end zone. So, yes, it is frustrating to come off the field. But at the end of the game, we’re out to win the game. Whatever makes us win, that’s what I’m for.”
No question, Jones is a company man. He says the right things all the time, but he’s not made out of wood. He has to have feelings. Heisman Trophy candidates don’t come out of the game when it’s time to get a first down.
And here’s Jones saying he’s never asked Stoops to stay in on any particular play. Says he hasn’t even thought about it.
“No, during a game, you’re going too fast,” Jones said. “You have 40 seconds. Someone goes in, and someone goes out. That’s the way it is.”
If you want Jones to get a bit fiery, it’s not going to happen, and teammates say Jones has become more of a leader this season, more vocal and more, “in your face.”
“He’s constantly speaking up in our team meetings,” said punter Tress Way.
“I know Landry feels a little pressure on his shoulders to step up and lead,” cornerback Aaron Colvin said.
But “the way it is,” according to Jones, apparently means not speaking up when it comes to third and short.
“Sure, he’d like to always stay in,” Stoops said. “It’s just not his style to run the power or run the counter. You know, Blake (Bell) just has a better feel for running in tight spots. That’s not a knock on him (Jones), and I don’t want to see him do it, to be quite honest with you.
“You know, any competitor wants to stay in. Has it been an issue? No. And it won’t be an issue.”
It won’t be an issue because Jones isn’t programmed to make it one. He’ll sit back, quietly set records and likely lead the Sooners to another season with double-digit wins.
But could it be different?
Maybe, but Jones isn’t going to say anything about that, but I can always hope he does.