‘Nothing was promised to me’: National Championship QB Cardale Jones focused on learning CFL game, not winning starting job

Courtesy: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Cardale Jones has never seen a quarterback room more crowded than the one in Commonwealth Stadium.

The former Ohio State pivot is no stranger to looking up at a long depth chart. After all, this is the guy who steered the Buckeyes to an NCAA National Championship as a third-string quarterback off the bench. But when eight other passers filed in for the first set of meetings at Edmonton Elks rookie camp, he realized just how hard the climb to a CFL starting job could be.

It hasn’t seemed to phase the former NFL fourth-round pick thus far, as he takes his first tentative steps into the Canadian game. He’s by far the biggest name vying for the Elks’ wide-open quarterback position, but Jones insists that there has been no handshake deal with head coach and general manager Chris Jones guaranteeing him a job. He’s here to work and learn, just like everybody else.

“Nothing was promised to me. I know it is a new staff, coach Jones is a defensive guy and he lets his offensive staff run the offensive side of things,” Jones said.

“I’m just trying to get through these three days and put myself in a position to be here next week. When it comes to a position and a solidified spot on the team, that’s up to the coaches.”

Those coaches have left no stone unturned in an attempt to solidify their situation under centre, seemingly unsatisfied by the veteran options of Nick Arbuckle and Taylor Cornelius left by the previous regime. The rumours around the team’s desire to move on from Arbuckle, in particular, were enough to force the Canadian Football League Players’ Association to allow the Elks’ veterans to attend rookie camp.

Both are competing despite an order to other experienced quarterbacks to stay away during collective bargaining negotiations, but after day one, Jones admitted he still didn’t know the names of the incumbent pair. There are simply too many contenders vying for the job and too much information to absorb.

Signed less than a week ago, Jones has been thrown into the fire of learning the CFL game and the difficulty of the adjustments cannot be overstated.

“Right now, it’s a big difference. Thinking about the wide field, thinking about the deeper end zone. I had a play in our pass skelly where I tried to gun it thinking the end zone would run out and I should have just thrown through the end zone. The guy had an extra 10 yards to run under the ball,” Jones recounted with a chuckle.

“Then of course you have the extra guy on defence and three or four guys moving at one time before the snap, so it’s a lot of different moving parts compared to American football, especially for a quarterback. Everything is so visual for you, but when things are moving before the snap and it’s a completely different picture after, that poses its own challenge.”

By all accounts, the 29-year-old is taking to the game well, though he warns that the tape is the only accurate way to make that assessment. His resume may read like a checklist of criteria for quarterbacks who flame out of the CFL — big name, big school and bigger body — but he’ll have as much of a shot at the top job as anyone in Elks camp, if not more.

In a perfect world, all signs pointed towards the Elks wanting J.T. Barrett to be their starter, the very quarterback Jones replaced to win a National Championship at Ohio State. It was another injury to Barrett, this time forcing his untimely retirement, that provided Jones with this opportunity in Edmonton and his former teammate has left the mantle of frontrunner for the top job vacant.

It’s up to Jones to seize it, but he won’t get ahead of himself.

“That’s not my focus right now,” Jones insisted. “My focus is getting these installs down pat, finishing up these next days of rookie minicamp strong and seeing where it leads from there.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.