While he handled the pressure of being under-center for a premier college football program like Oklahoma well, it was still tough as the Sooners stumbled to an 8-5 record in 2009. Critics picked apart Jones’ performances and constantly compared him to Bradford.
“That year was humbling for Landry,” said wideout Ryan Broyles. “There was a lot of negativity coming in: ‘not Sam Bradford this, not Sam Bradford that.’ But he’s matured, mentally and physically. And now everybody’s bought in.”
Jones embraced the challenge of replacing Bradford in full force his sophomore year. He masterfully led the offense by throwing for 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns, while carrying his team to a 12-2 record and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Connecticut.
Now in his junior season, Jones is the unquestioned leader of the preseason consensus no. 1 team in the nation, and a likely Heisman finalist.
However, it wasn’t an easy road to respectability. As a freshman he was very shy, and reluctant to step in and take the reins of the offense — but with each game the team won he gained more confidence, and it showed in his leadership on the field.
“It’s definitely hard,” Jones said. “It’s something that a lot of people overlook and just think as long as you’re the quarterback, you’re the leader. But you kind of have to earn that respect before you start and once you start playing, you learn some stuff on how to do things and you learn how to become a leader. In my couple of years starting, I’ve learned how to become a leader and I’ve learned how to motivate my teammates, kind of become accountable with them, kind of become relatable.”
That leadership ability is a big reason Oklahoma went on a five game winning streak at the end of last year, capping the season with the Sooners first BCS win since 2002.
“He’s just become a really strong leader,” said head coach Bob Stoops. “And now he’s more comfortable. ... The quarterback needs to be a leader. If he hasn’t played and earned the respect by performance and meeting challenges and then doesn’t have the confidence yet, it’s hard to be that guy. Well, he has all of that now and so he’s a true, true leader on this team. And a special one.”
Jones isn’t satisfied with just being a leader on the field — he wants to continue to get better as quarterback.
In order to improve on last year’s stellar numbers, Jones hit the film room looking to cut down on the 12 interceptions he misfired his junior season. He’s practiced on correct footwork, and cutting down on mental mistakes that caused the picks.
Jones’ time in the film room, as well as his work on the practice field could translate into a monster season, which could have him joining the ranks of Bradford and Jason White as a Heisman winner at the quarterback position for Oklahoma.
However, he would like to separate himself in one category from those two greats, and win a national championship.
“You can throw for a lot of yards, throw a lot of touchdowns,” Jones said. “But all that matters is whether you won or lost games.”