Bills take step-at-a-time approach to groom QB Cardale Jones
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) The first step in Cardale Jones' development in Buffalo began with the Bills focusing on the rookie quarterback's first step.
''We started switching up my feet a little bit,'' Jones said after taking the field for the first time since the Ohio State player was selected by the Bills in the fourth round of the NFL draft.
''I'm used to staggering my left foot and then taking a fall step, and that's even worse,'' Jones added Friday, when the Bills opened a three-day rookie camp. ''Just trying to break the habit. It shouldn't be too hard just because I learned the habit three months ago.''
Everything is essentially raw and undeveloped about Jones. And that has led to the Bills taking a start-from-scratch approach in their bid to develop a quarterback who displayed vast potential and glaring inexperience during what boiled down to a flash-in-the-pan three-year college career.
Making the tremendous jump from third-stringer to starter during his sophomore season, Jones went 11-0, including leading the Buckeyes to win the 2015 national championship. And yet, that wasn't enough to relieve lingering concerns about his decision making and accuracy; Jones was benched after seven starts last season.
The task now falls on Bills quarterbacks coach David Lee to begin an extensive grooming process to determine whether Jones can one day compete at the NFL level.
It's going to take patience.
''He's got the physical gifts you look for, there's no question about that,'' said coach Rex Ryan, referring to Jones' 6-foot-5, 253-pound frame, big hands and strong arm. ''But you also notice that he's just going through everything like, it's spinning right now. He's throwing behind guys. He doesn't know where he's going right now with it. So he's got a long way to go.''
Ryan's assessment came after Jones' inconsistencies were readily apparent during his first practice.
At times, he effortlessly zipped the ball into tight holes to make completions - and sometimes incompletions, because his receivers seemed unaccustomed to how hard Jones can throw. On other occasions, he bounced short passes a couple of feet in front of his intended target.
Jones described his first day as a positive one, and was particularly pleased with the pointers he received regarding footwork and a tendency to drop his elbow.
''It's not overwhelming,'' Jones said. ''Overall, I think I'm keeping my head above water.''
The key is staying open-minded to accept, rather than question, what he's being taught.
''You have to trust, not just trust but have faith in the coaches,'' Jones said.
On the bright side, Jones' development doesn't need to be rushed, something Bills general manager Doug Whaley took into account upon drafting him.
''He's got some stuff to work on, but he doesn't have any muscle memory already ingrained in him that's bad,'' Whaley said. ''So we've got a piece of clay, and we can mold him.''
Tyrod Taylor returns as Buffalo's starter, with EJ Manuel in place as the primary backup. Both, however, are in the final year of their contracts, leaving the position uncertain for 2017.
Jones accepts his place in the pecking order, while understanding it's on him to work his way up.
''I didn't come here saying I want to take over anything,'' Jones said. ''I'm going in here knowing and believing that Tyrod is our starter. I'm going in here knowing that EJ is the backup. I'm going in here learning and working as hard as I can every day.''
Jones balked at a question regarding how far he needs to go before showing he's capable of running an NFL offense.
''I feel like that's a weird question to ask,'' he said. ''Whatever it takes. In my personal opinion, I can be ready whenever they need me to be ready.''
Rookie defensive lineman Adolphus Washington, who played with Jones at Ohio State, noted the quarterback already made a good first impression. Jones asserts his command in the huddle by calling out plays and, when necessary, demanding players cut the chatter.
''I was hearing some of the guys in the locker room talking about it,'' said Washington, Buffalo's third-round pick. ''I was proud to hear that, because that's one of the things that he probably needed to work on.''
One step at a time.
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