- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
NORMAN, Okla. -- Barring injury, Landry Jones will become the winningest quarterback in Oklahoma history next season. He likely will finish near the top of the NCAA record books in virtually every career-passing category. And he already has received a first-round grade from NFL scouts.
So what was the reaction when Jones announced in January that he was coming back for his senior season, with the goal of quarterbacking the Sooners to an eighth national championship?
Among at least a portion of OU fans, a collective groan so palpable that even Jones' teammates took notice.
"You have the best quarterback in the country coming back, and all you hear is fans complaining," guard Gabe Ikard admitted Monday after Oklahoma's first spring practice. "For you to have a record-setting quarterback, going to be an early-season Heisman guy, it's one of those things, how could you be mad he's coming back? I just didn't understand why people are complaining about it."
Welcome to Oklahoma, where the starting quarterback seems at times to be enemy No. 1. Lauded nationally. Loathed locally.
"People should have been more positive about him coming back because of what he's done for the program, what he did last year, the skill-set he has," Ikard said. "I feel like he's underappreciated a little bit. I don't know why. I guess it's a question for you guys."
Since Ikard asked, here's one guess. Jones had to follow Sam Bradford. Then he had to precede Blake Bell.
As a freshman, Jones struggled through having to step in for the most prolific passer in OU history -- after that passer suffered an injury two quarters into the season. Since, Jones has had to fend off the most prolific quarterback recruit to sign with the Sooners -- and also steer clear of Big Red Sports & Imports -- since Jack Mildren.
"Everyone likes a new face," said Ikard, explaining Bell-sanity.
The other charge levied against Jones is his perceived tendency for low-key body language. On the field. Off to the sideline. And in the interview room after games, win or lose. To which Ikard says, who cares?
"All I really care about is that he makes the throws, hands the ball off well," he said. "And does the right things off the field, on the field."
There's no getting around Jones' struggles at the tail end of last season minus All-America wide receiver Ryan Broyles. But consider this: Jones already owns the majority of the school's single-game, season and career passing marks. He probably will overtake Steve Davis to become the school's winningest quarterback.
And above all, Jones still has a chance to accomplish something Mildren, Davis, Josh Heupel, Jason White and Bradford all failed to do: win the Heisman Trophy while leading the Sooners to a national championship. Unlikely, perhaps. But not unreasonable, considering the weapons Jones will have at his disposable next season.
"I'm lucky enough to be at a place like Oklahoma where I have a lot of good guys around me," Jones said, "that I'm capable of making those things come true, maybe."
Imagine those things did come true. Would it then be realistic to argue Jones as the greatest quarterback in OU history? Crazy talk maybe. Then again, maybe not.
"Is that realistic for him to be that?" said Heupel, OU's offensive coordinator. "Why wouldn't it be?"
To get there, Jones still has work to do. He has to prove he can win without his crutch otherwise known as Ryan Broyles. He has to improve his footwork, something he plans on refining extensively this spring through drills. He has to eliminate the lapses in decision-making.
"Can he be better in understanding our offense? Can he have more command? Can he play smarter? Yes," Heupel said. "Can he be a better leader? Absolutely. Is he continuing to make strides in these areas? I believe that he is."
Ikard believes so, too.
"We really respect him coming back and working towards us winning the championship," Ikard said. "We're excited to have him back. He's as vocal as he's ever been, he's the leader of the team, and we all know that. We're very, very thankful to have him back."
Even if some OU fans are not.
Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Submit questions to his mailbag and look for answers every Friday.
11hEthan Sherwood Strauss