Commentary

Pocket pressure gets to Landry Jones

Oklahoma QB continues to be judged vs. predecessors Bradford, White and Heupel

Updated: September 28, 2010, 11:25 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has had enough of the questions nitpicking his quarterback.

"We're sitting here like the guy stinks, and I don't think he's that bad," Wilson said. "I mean, he can play better and we can coach better and we're going to. But he's a young player who's doing pretty good."

Pretty good is subpar by the standards set by recent Sooners quarterbacks. Fair or not, Landry Jones will be judged by whether he lives up to the legacies left by national champion Josh Heupel and Heisman Trophy winners Jason White and Sam Bradford.

It wasn't enough for Jones to lead the nation's freshman quarterbacks in passing yards (3,198) and touchdowns (26) last season. Oklahoma lost five games, so his season was a failure.

"I'm not Sam Bradford or Josh Heupel," Jones said. "I have to be who I am and focus on my weaknesses and use my strengths."

Jones' most glaring weakness is getting the job done outside the city limits of Norman. There was a stark difference in his statistics in home and road/neutral games last season. He completed 62 percent of his passes and threw for 18 touchdowns and only four interceptions at home as a freshman. In road and neutral site games, he completed less than 55 percent of his passes and had only eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Throwing for 370 yards and two touchdowns in a road win over unranked Cincinnati won't hush the doubters. Jones still needs a signature win away from home.

Beating Texas at the Cotton Bowl would certainly qualify, no matter how ugly the Longhorns' loss to UCLA was last week.

It's not all on Jones, people associated with the Oklahoma program stress. He's just a cog who plays the most high-profile position.

[+] EnlargeJosh Heupel
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJosh Heupel is but one of the former Oklahoma quarterbacks by which Landry Jones will be judged, like it or not. That list also includes Heisman Trophy winners Jason White and Sam Bradford.

Oklahoma's coaches don't want Jones to feel like he has to carry the offense. His tendency to press in pressure situations is a concern. They've emphasized that Jones just needs to make good decisions, not fill highlight reels.

"I'm not really out there to make plays," Jones said. "I'm just out there to make reads and get my playmakers the ball, and they can go make plays. I don't have to do anything really extraordinary. I just have to make the plays that present themselves."

Jones is far from a finished product. He has a bad habit of getting happy feet in the pocket. He tends to lock onto receivers. In other words, he has a lot in common with most young quarterbacks who start for big-time programs.

"He's working on it," coach Bob Stoops said. "He was thrown into the fire last year not expecting to be.

"I thought he handled that situation last year about as well as anyone could have and grew with it through the year. I think players around him grew with it through the year. I think this year he'll continue to make improvement, and I believe he'll be supported better with the guys around him playing at a higher level, a better, more consistent level."

Teammates say Jones exudes much more confidence now than he did last season, when he was pressed into duty after Bradford injured his throwing shoulder. They see a much more prepared, confident quarterback. They believed in him enough to vote him as a captain.

"We trust in him," All-Big 12 receiver Ryan Broyles said. "He's one of those guys that's going to come in and prepare hard. You definitely want to trust in a guy who puts the time in."

Sooners fans want to trust Jones, but they need to see him succeed away from home to believe. He can answer a lot of questions Saturday afternoon at the Cotton Bowl.

Tim MacMahon is a reporter for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.

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